Youth and Crime

Youth and Crime in relation to gender, ethnicity and class.

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  • Created on: 01-01-11 01:38

Patterns and Trends in Youth Crime


-2007-8, Black young people made up 3% of the general 10-17 population but account for 7% of those coming to attention of the youth justice system. 14% of those recieved a custodial sentence and almost 1 in 3 given a sentence of long term detention.  


-During 2007, 74% of all young people convicted, warned or reprimanded for an offence were male.

-There is no evidence that female youth offending is increasing at any faster rate than males

Social Class:

-Pitts (2008) research on gangs shows there are stronger links between young peoples involvement in crime and living in disadvantaged areas than there are with their individual, family or educational characteristics.

-It could be argued that deviance engaged in by middle class youths is less likely to be labelled by the police or other agents as worthy of attention.

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Functualist Approaches: Subculture and Strain Theo

-Merton (1930s) argued that the offending commited by young people was the result of a poor fit or a strain between the socially accepted goals of society and the socially approved means of obtaining those desired goals. This leads to deviance.

-He argued that impossible standards and goals are set onto young people and when they are unable to achieve these goals eg: finding a job, doing well in school, then they become  disenchanted with society and seek out other alternative (generally deviant) ways of behaving.

-Merton used the term anomie to describe when people find it difficult to achieve their goals. In this situation people become frustrated and develop a number of responses including:

-seeking new ways of achieving the goals through crime (innovation)

-simply "going through the motions" knowing it is pointless (ritualism)

-turning to drugs or alcohol in despair (retreatism), rejecting the traditional means and goals and turning to political, religious or social rebellion.

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Status Frustration

Albert Cohen (1955) drew from similar ideas as Merton but was more interested in the fact that offending by young people does not benefit them financially but consists of vandalism and violence.

-He noted that the majority of young people who commit offences are from working class backgrounds. Cohen suggested that this derives from status frustration which is a sense of personal failure and inadequacy, this comes from their experiences at school.

-Working class boys are more likely to fail at school at consequently feel humiliated. In order to gain status they create their own subcultures which "invert" traditional middle-class values such as obedience, politeness and obeying the law.

-They behave badly and engage in antisocial behaviour within the values of their subculture this provides them with status.

-Cohen is accused of focusing more on theories that are more applicable to males than females.

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Illegitimate opportunity structure: illegitimate s

Cloward and Ohlin (1960) agreed that a mismatch between socially approved goals and means could lead to offending. However they suggested that Merton failed to appreciate that there was a parallel illegal set of goals and means to the legal one called the illegitimate opportunity structure: this means that an illegal career is possible.

According to Cloward and Ohlin the structure has three possible subcultures:

-Criminal: in this adaptation there is a thriving local criminal subculture, with successful role models. Young offenders can work their way up the ladder, in the criminal hierachy.

-Conflict: here there is no criminal subculture to provide a career but there are gangs. The groups brought up in this culture are likely to turn to violence, then turning onto other similar groups.

-Retreatist: this occurs when the individual has no opportunity or ability to engage with these cultures so retreats into the subculture of alcohol or drugs.

A weakness of this is that life rarely falls into such neat categories and again like Cohen this theory ignores female deviance.


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Focal concerns: subculture as normal working class

Walter Miller (1962) developed a rather different approach suggesting that antisocial behaviour was simply an extreme development of normal working class values. He suggested that working class males have six focal concerns which are likely to lead to deliquency:

-Trouble: always seeming to find trouble.

-Toughness: a belief that being physically stronger than others (and being able to show it) is good

-Smartness: that a person both looks good, but is also witty.

-Excitement: that its important to search out thrills

-Fate: that the individual has little chance to overcome the wider fate that awaits them

-Autonomy: that it is important not to be pushed around by others.

According to Miller young lower class males are pushed towards crime by the implicit values of working class culture.

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Subterranean values: subculture as normal

Matza (1964) has suggested that, in explaining youth offending we should think less about the notion of subculture and more about subterranean values. According to him we all have deviant values but they are kept in check most of the time.

-Everyone craves excitement and thrills but we control these urges and conform. For most people these subterranean values only emerge in certain situations eg: on holiday or on a drunken night out.

-On these occassions most people behave badly but when they emerge they use excuses to explain why the excesses are justified. Matza called this neutralisation.

-The difference between a persistent offender and a law abiding citizen may simply be how often and in what situation these values emerge.

-He does not deny that some groups or subcultures are more likely to express these values than others, but these groups are not completely different from other people.


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Labelling Theory

-This theory argues that once a individual or group is labelled they become affected by the negative responses they get from others.

-This leads them to change their self image to live up to the image others have of them. This is called a self fulfilling prophecy-a prediction that makes itself become true. For example: if a group of "hoodies" are kicked out of a shopping centre, even when they haven't done anything, they are likely to respond in an aggressive way as a response to society rejecting them.

-This process is known as deviance amplification: where youths initial deviance is amplified by the reaction of social  control.

-This theory has been criticised for making deviance amplification seem inevitable when we all react to labelling differently.



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Left realism and youth subculture

Marxist analyses of youth offending saw crime as an act of resistance against capitalism.

Left realists however such as Lea and Young (1984) argue that youth crime harms the working class people in the neighbourhood in which it takes place suggesting that youth offending is the result of two linked factors:

-Young inner city males (in particular ethnic minority males) feel relatively deprived, as they see affluence all around them, but are unable to gain access to the wealth.

-They feel politically and socially marginalised, in the sense that they don't have status in society and therefore no way of changing the society around them, which they blame for their poor social and economic situation.

The result of this is that a subculture develops which provides them with status and justifies criminal acts.

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Contemporary approaches to subculture

Postmodernity: subculture and emotion

Recent postmodern approaches argue emotions are an important and ignored drive for behaviour that includes youth offending. Two forms of emotion-based explanation are suggested for behaviour which trangresses the accepted boundaries.

Katz (1988) argues that crime is seductive- young males get drawn into it because they find it thrilling. That is why so much of youth offending is not for financial gain, there is simply a pleasure in spraying a tag on a wall or vandalizing. Once a young person tries this activity, they are drawn or "seduced" into repeating the process.

Lyng (1990) argues that young males like to engage in edgework, which he defines as placing oneself in situations of potential harm by flirting with danger. There is no rational explanation for this desire-attempts to do so fail because they impose a rational explanation on a non rational emotion. Similar to Katz, Lyng suggests simply that the rush or pleasure of experiencing danger is something young males speak.

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Subculture and gender


Subcultural theories are mainly about male offending. Collison (1996) points out that by looking at what all these theories have in common we can see what the ideals of being a "male" is, including:

-physical toughness

-the ability to take risks and court danger

-looking smart

-maintaining "face" in the presence of danger

-owning status objects.

Collison suggests that exploring the nature of masculinity is the key to understanding youth subcultures. This would involve a broad exploration of how boys are socialised by parents, education system and the media.

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Feminist subcultural explanations

The majority of studies have actually indicated that female subcultures are more likely to be restraining girls from offending.

-McRobbie and Garber (1976) argue that some females are involved in antisocial behaviour but that within subcultures they tend to be marginalised through the dominance of males.

-However McRobbie (1991) also points out that it is actuallly more difficult for girls to enter youth subcultures as there is more parental control on their behaviour. They are less likely to be allowed out on their own in the evening.

-Frith (1983) has argued that girls' culture is more likely to be that of the bedroom, where girls can meet, listen to music, chat, compare sexual notes and dance skills.

HOWEVER-Chatterton and Hollands (2001) who studied young peoples experience of nights out in Newcastle. Their research suggests that for females aged over 16, the growth of city nightlife, changing attitudes to womens behaviour and increased self confidence have all combined to change female social behaviour.

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