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How Important Are Social and Cultural Factors as Predictors of Youth offending?

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How important are social and cultural factors as predictors of youth offending?

Throughout this essay, I am going to be looking at the topic of youth offending. I will be looking at what factors can be used as the predictors for youth offending and in particular I will be researching into how important social and cultural factors as predictors of youth offending. In order to do this, I will be looking at different sociologists theories as far as young offending is concerned and what evidence there is to support these theories. I will then conclude by discussing whether I believe social and cultural factors are important in determining youth offending.

There are many different explanations throughout criminology and sociology concerning youth offending and predictors of it. Many of these explanations focus on individual criminals and try to distinguish certain behavioural or physiological anomalies or abnormalities to separate the criminal from the non-criminal. The theories put forward here put criminal behaviour down to individual differences and is often referred to as individual positivism. Crime is viewed as a biological, psychiatric, personality or learning deficiency.# This theory suggests behaviour is determined by constitutional, genetic or personality factors and views crime as an abnormal individual condition. It is believed that criminals can be treated via medicine, therapy and resocialiation.#

Sociological approaches on the other hand stress the importance of social and cultural factors as the causes of crime. Sociological approaches aimed to account for the distribution of varying amounts of crime within given populations. Such research surrounding this topic started in the 1830's from the French statistician, Guerry and the Belgian mathematician, Quetelet.# This research involved analysing official statistics on variables such as suicide, educational level, crime rate and age and sex of offenders within given geographic areas for specific time periods. Their findings produced two different patterns. Firstly the types and the amounts of crime varied from region to region, but within specific areas there was little variation from year to year. This regularity suggested that criminal behaviour is generated by something other than individual motivation.# So here we can already see that many sociologist believe social and cultural factors were important in determining criminal behaviour. The theories put forward here were the start of what is known as sociological positivism. Sociological positivism believes that crime is caused by social pathology. They view crime as the product of dysfunctions in social and economic conditions and believe behaviour is determined by social conditions and structures. This theory suggests crime is normal , but certain rates of crime are dysfunctional. Quetelet noted that urban areas appear to have a higher recorded crime rate than rural areas, and within cities there are presumed to be 'criminal areas' or 'hot spots' of crime.#

Many sociologists likened human organisations to plant life and viewed cities as living and growing organisms. Sociologists working at the University of Chicago during the 1920's and 1930's believed growing up in industrial and metropolitan societies influenced the outcome of people's lives and more importantly growing up in such conditions would affect crime and criminal behaviour. It was a social problem and criminal activity was driven by the social environment. # Robert E. Park (1921) was the Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago during this time and developed a theory of human ecology. Park saw the city as a living ecological environment or as a kind of ever-evolving social organism. These social processes had their impact on human behaviour such as crime and Park believed these affects could be ascertained through careful study of city life.# So, criminal activity here is caused through the changing social environment.

Ernest Burgess (1928) was a student and colleague of Park and he developed a model of the city of Chicago that provided a framework for understanding the social roots of crime. This theory is often referred to as a Concentric Zone Theory.# Burgess believed that as cities expand in size, the development is patterned socially and argued that the city of Chicago could be described in terms of five concentric zones. It was by a competitive process that decided how people were distributed spatially amongst the zones.# The most expensive residential areas were in the outer zones, away from the chaotic atmosphere in the city centre, the pollution caused by factories and the homes of the poor. However, Burgess placed great importance on the 'zone of transition'. The zone of transition was an area of great social upheaval, which contained deteriorating tenements, often built in the shadow of ageing factories. This zone was described as the least desirable living area and was the focus for the influx of waves of immigrants, as this was the only place the immigrants could afford to reside. This lead to weak family and communal ties which resulted in 'social disorganisation and it was this disorganisation that was presented as the primary explanation of criminal behaviour.#

Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay (1931) wanted to determine whether the concentric zone theory was correct and wanted to see whether crime was greater in socially disorganised areas of the city and so they did this by plotting juvenile crime court statistics onto Burgess's concentric circles model. Their findings reinforced the suggestion that offending behaviour flourished in the zone of transition and delinquency rates were at their highest in run-down city zones. The rate of offending subsequently decreased the further an individual moved out to the prosperous suburbs, the outer zones.# Shaw and McKay studied court records that spanned over several decades and this enabled them to convey that crime levels were highest in slum neighbourhoods and as these groups moved to other zones, their offending rates decreased. Therefore it was concluded by Shaw and McKay that it's was the nature of the neighbourhoods rather than the nature of the individuals that lived there that determined involvement in criminal activity.#

Another sociological theory that focuses on cultural and social aspects as cause of crime comes in the theory of Differential Association. Differential Association is a theory of learning. Fundamentally, it asserts that crime is learnt by association with others.# It was argued that the frequency and consistency of an individuals contact with criminality determined the chance that a person had of participating in systematic criminal behaviour. The basic cause for criminal behaviour was that the existence of different



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