Gang child criminals Essay

We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings

~Emile Durkheim

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In the increasing debate of minority criminals and their proneness towards recidivism, there exists the issue of rehabilitation.  In point of fact the entire issue of minority delinquency hinges upon the ability of the offender to re-enter society not as a criminal but as a redemptive individual ready to become a working part of society.  In the questions that arise from the concern over minority delinquency the recurring question is this:  Are children who commit crimes rehabilitated by the juvenile court system, or are they more likely to commit criminal acts as adults?  In the answering of this fundamental question, aspects of the child criminal are brought to the forefront of the debate, and these include, the attachment the child has with parental figure and the morality that exists in the child because of that relationship or the amorality that exists because of lack of a relationship.  Also, the connection the minority has with school and community becomes prevalent when after school programs are a deterrent to crime[1].  Throughout this essay, such rehabilitation techniques will be dissected and examined, and a cause and effect scenario will be produced.  Amalgamating facts on the minority delinquent and the process by which they become a delinquent is the aim of this paper.  The reintroduction of a delinquent into society will be presented as the purpose of the juvenile court system and whether this system fails or should receive accolades is the determining factor in rehabilitation.  Other factors in the rehabilitation of the delinquent, and the effectiveness of these alternative methods will also be presented.  In essence, the purpose of this essay is to reveal whether or not minority delinquents have a chance to become integral parts of a working society and whether the juvenile court system impedes or motivates the delinquent to become a model citizen.  In fact, are minorities in detention centers merely an impetus for minoritys to continue with their criminal lifestyle, and is trying them in a court of law under sociological pretext instead of philosophical paving the path towards them becoming a hardened criminal?

            In view of delinquent behavior there must be a definition and applicable theory to first aid in deciding what causes such conduct.  In Hirschi’s book Causes of Delinquency (2002) there are presented three different theory types in regards to delinquent behavior.  These theories have applicable grounds, by which the delinquent acts out, as Hirschi states,

Three fundamental perspectives on delinquency and minority behavior dominate the current scene.  According to strain or motivational theories, legitimate desires that conformity cannot satisfy or force a person into deviance.  According to control or bond theories, a person is free to commit delinquent acts because his ties to the conventional order have somehow been broken.  According to cultural deviance theories, the deviant conforms to a set of standards not accepted by a larger or more powerful society.  3

The idea of conformity is a major part of the decision process of whether or not a minority becomes a delinquent.  In fact, conformity to whom is the major question presented by each theory.  The conformity to a society should discipline a minority into model behavior while the conformity to a gang, or group of friends whose lifestyle consists of criminal acts is merely another form of orthodoxy in that particular group.  Minority delinquents may conform to a group and think to themselves that they are merely not conforming to society; in either direction acceptance by a group is understated.

            In the conformity of either gang or community the underlying current of thought for the minority delinquent is desire.  Their desire to be a part of something and be accepted by that larger group is the impetus towards deliberating behavior.  Humans are creatures whose desires propel them on towards actions, whether or not those actions are legitimated by society or a gang is not concerting but rather a person sometimes feels that their desires are above the law, and when that desire is about acceptance, many formal rules are broken, as Hirschi states,

Having thus established that man is a moral animal who desires to obey the rules, the sociologist was then faced with the problem of explaining his deviance.  Clearly, if men desire to conform, they must be under great pressure before they will resort to deviance.  In the classic strain theories, this pressure is provided by legitimate desires.  A man desires success, for example, as everyone tells him he should, but he cannot attain success conforming to the rules; consequently, in desperation, he turns to deviant behavior or crime to attain that which he considers rightfully his. 5

In defining the deviance of a minority his or her own personal issues towards conformity become apparent.  There is of course the issue of morality with problems about crimes.  For a minority delinquent, their understanding about crime, and their acts therein, depend independently upon who has previously governed their conceptions of the criminal lifestyle.  On this issue, Hirschi states, “In strain theory, man is a moral animal.  His morality accounts for the pressure that I built into the model.  If morality is removed, however, if man is seen as an amoral animal, then tremendous pressure is unnecessary in accounting for his deviance” (10).  A minority child, to a certain extent is not solely responsible for their own actions, because they mirror what has been presented to them.  Parents should be highly considered when any discussion or debate about the morality of children and their proceeding stature as a criminal is discussed[2].

With this understanding of the minority mindset, the parental control over the thoughts and sentiments that minority has towards crime should be discussed.  The amount of exposure a child has with their parents may be considered positive or negative in regards to rehabilitation or the furthering of the minority child’s life into crime depending on the morality of the parents.   The juvenile court system lays great claim to the lack of control parents have with regards to their children and thus the child is sent to a more appropriate atmosphere.  The juvenile court system sometimes takes control away from the parents and gives it to an institute.  To keep on track, the minority child’s exposure to their parents may offer a great opportunity to examine the process of the making of a minority delinquent.  Hirschi gives us the fact that parental control may be a great deterrent to a life of crime.   In control theory it is believed that the greater the bond between a parent and a child, the less likely it is for that child to become delinquent (83).  When a minority child contemplates a criminal act, according to control theory, and decides to either follow through with the act or to discard the act, depends upon the extent to which that their parents are moral beings have ingrained in that child such morality[3].   On this subject, Hirschi states, “In the light of the cultural deviance perspective, the child unattached to his parents is simply more likely to be exposed to “criminogenic influences.” He is, in other words, more likely to be free to take up with a gang.  His lack of attachment to his parents is, in itself, of no moral significance”  (85).  The attachment a minority child exhibits to their parents should have great influence on the juvenile court system as to whether or not the minority child can be rehabilitated.

            Since the morality of a parent seems to have great sway as to the sentiments and sometimes actions of a minority delinquent, the parent should be given custody and paroling powers over the child instead of a minority institution or prison[4].  The socialization from the earliest stage of child development is dependent upon the parent.  The conformity a child feels they must succumb to is the conformity the parent instills in the child.  Hirschi states that in control theory advocates of alternative law enforcement find the internalization of norms depends on the early socialization the minority child has been exposed to under the guidance of the parent.  The emotional bond between minority parent and child delivers to the child the same mores and values held in esteem of the parent.  The parent’s expectations of the child become well known and are fostered through this bond.  If, however, the child is alienated or distanced from their parent, such bonds prove to be nihilistic which in turn creates for society a gang member.  The feeling the child has of moral rules when the bond is severed or otherwise incapacitated proves to be the leading factor in the delinquent lifestyle.  When the parent shows little concern for the child’s actions or is simply not in the child’s life, then that child is void of moral laws, codes and societal norms (86).  The child’s development of a superego or conscious will not develop if such a bond is nonexistent which in turn also propitiates the existence of the gang lifestyle.

            Of parental bonds and the forming of child delinquents, Hirschi goes on to state,

The child attached to his parents may be less likely to get into situations in which delinquent acts are possible, simply because he spends more of his time in their presence.  However, since most delinquent acts require little time, and since most adolescents are frequently exposed to situations potentially definable as opportunities for delinquency, the amount of time spent with parents would probably be only a minor factor in delinquency prevention.  So-called “direct control” is not, except as a limiting case, of much substantive or theoretical importance.  The important consideration is whether the parent is psychologically present when temptation to commit a crime appears.  If, in the situation of temptation, no thought is given to parental reaction, the child is to this extent free to commit the act.  88

Parental concern and involvement, in regards to control theory, is thus proven to be a staple in the forming of healthy relationships between child and society and the deterring factor that limits delinquency.

            There are other bonds that prove to be under examination when discovering the root of minority gang members.  The severed ties the child has with society are also formed in school settings and the connection a child forms with gangs or other delinquent friends.  The catch-22 of the acceptance a child seeks out in gang life however is that the gang at once expects conformity but also shuns a participant who is not individualistic.  In this forming dichotomy there exists the relevance of expected behavior in either society or gang life, on this Hirschi writes,

…no good evidence has been produced to show that attachment to peers is actually conducive to delinquency.  Unless delinquent behavior is valued among adolescents, there is no reason to believe that attachments to other adolescents should produce results different from those obtaining form attachments to conventional adults.  Predictions about the effects of peer attachments thus hinge on the assumed conventionality or nonconventionality of peers.  If the peer “culture” requires delinquent behavior, then presumably attachment would foster conformity-that is, delinquency.  However, if the peer culture is identical to the conventional culture, then attachment to persons within this culture should foster conformity to conventional standards. 84-85

It is common evidence that the forming of relationships (healthy relationships) to surrounding community, and family is the most effective medicine in deterring minority acts of crime and violence.  In the school setting minoritys form bonds with each other and these bonds are based on similar activities such as different clubs and organizations, to their excelling in the same academic pursuits, as Hirschi states,

On the one hand, the lower-class boy’s day-today- experience in the school is shown to be unpleasant, degrading, and demoralizing.  Although she might wish to do otherwise, the middle-class teacher tends to punish the fidgety, unambitious, and dirty lower-class boy.  Furthermore, children from classes above him dominate extracurricular affairs, refuse to date him, and refuse to admit him into their cliques.  To the degree that all this matters to him, the lower-class boy is held to face a problem of adjustment:  “To the degree to which he values middle-class status, either because he values the good opinion of middle-class persons or because he has to some degree internalized middle-class standards himself, he faces a problem of adjustment and is in the market for a ‘solution[5].’”

It is a too common feature in schools to have a prejudice against the lower-class students because they are set up for failure.  Much of this failure has to do with their social bonds in spilt households, in gang-related activity, and other ‘pre-disposed’ minority delinquent behavior.

            The lack of respect a minority has towards their parents is thought by control theorists to spread to other outside authorities such as the law, and institutions such as schools, thereby revealing increased detriment to the growth of the minority to go beyond the expected limits set forth by an ever-increasing daunting society.  In control theory, the attachment, or lack of attachment students exude for their parents often times finds its way up the hierarchy of institutes and into the views the minority has towards teachers, which further alienates the child from society (131).  As can be seen in control theory, the attachment a child displays for their parents shows it’s effect on almost every factor of the child’s life.  When that bond is severed the predicted rehabilitation that may be available for the child diminishes because the tie that binds also binds the surrounding features, structures and laws of society in all regards.

            The binding ties that a child forms with parents can be compromised and when this occurs the regard and respect that should be displayed toward the parent then is displaced onto a gang or friends.  On the reverse side of this equation the child’s adherence to their friends is a form of conformity and as Hirschi states, “…the operative variable is delinquency of friends; attachment to friends is irrelevant.  But this would be dodging the issue.  We assert that, holding delinquency (or worthiness) of friends truly constant at any level, the more one respects or admires one’s friends, the less likely on is to commit delinquent acts.  We honor those we admire not by imitation, but by adherence to conventional standards” (152).  The defining feature of friendship is conformity[6].  There is a difference however with at-risk minorities and minorities who have committed petty theft only once.  The impact of having delinquent friends is not so severe as conforming adolescents into murderers.  Hirschi states that to conform a delinquent into strong acts of crime there must be an unusual motivation or impetus for committing the act or crime.  Delinquent friends are unlikely to present another minority with the driving force to commit murder or any other atrocious crime, so the tie held with friends is only a loose thread in discovery the motivation for minorities to commit crimes, and once their impetus is discovered the pathway to rehabilitation can be paved (157).

Following through with the notion of delinquency rubbing off in a crowd of minorities Hirschi states,

There is a very strong tendency for boys to have friends whose activities are congruent with their own attitudes.  Boys with a large stake in conformity are unlikely to have delinquent friends, and even when a boy with a large stake in conformity does have delinquent friends, the chance that he will commit delinquent acts is relatively low.  In my judgment, the evidence strongly supports the view that the boy’s stake in conformity affects his choice of friends rather than the other way around.  159

It can be succinctly stated that the affects of gang life on a minority are only slightly motivated through the corruption of friends.  The true form of criminality seems to be breed more with the ties to close relatives, and figures of authority.  The trepidation in gang life follows suit with the bonds between members being distant and wavering, based on fear and control which goes against the grain of conformity mentioned in making lasting bonds and having those bonds play out a moral code in the minority, as Hirschi states,

If member of delinquent gangs tend to have in common a low stake in conformity, if their relations with each other tend to be cold and brittle, still the data presented here leave much room for the preparation of group processes in the production of delinquent acts.  The boy with delinquent friends is unusually likely to have committed delinquent acts, especially when his ties to conventional society are weak to begin with.  161

The bonding experience between a minority and another person (be it parental, family related, or friend related) is thus proven to be of more importance in the persuasion set forth with parental control and presence.  In order for the minority delinquent to be rehabilitated a feeling of moral loss must be present.  That morality is the key that allows for re-acceptance into society after incarceration or paroling.  It is also within the community to deliver to the child a strong sense of worth and acceptance (conformity) in order for that minority to feel that they have a place in society.  Without the feeling of acceptance that minority may act out (in the form of committing crimes) and be led down the road to a future as an adult criminal.  In alternative procedures of rehabilitation, it is not in the juvenile court system that a delinquent will find a moral identity- for as will be discussed later, when a child is in a detention center they are more exposed to the elements that foster a criminal life- there is the procedure of a minority feeling a connection with their surrounding society and parents that will prove to be the greatest deterrent in criminality, as Hirschi states, “Of the elements of the bond to conventional society, involvement in conventional activities is most obviously  relevant to delinquent behavior.  The child playing ping-pong, swimming in the community pool, or doing his homework is not committing delinquent acts.  The obviousness of this picture of “wholesome” activity as incompatible with delinquent activity lies behind many delinquency prevention projects” (187).

            Even the school can be enacted, in alternative means to rehabilitation, as a solid base by which to begin the process of involving the minority in acts other than crime.  The school system delivers a wealth of activities and after-school programs that at once deliver to the delinquent a means by which to feel connected and involved and also keeps the minority away from a former set of friends and behavior.  In regards to crime being committed more by at-risk children than say a middle-class to high-class segment of children Hirschi states,

In short, the data suggest, there are no groups of substantial proportions in American society that positively encourage crime in the sense that those belonging to the groups in question would prefer their children to follow their own rather than a conventional way of life.  In fact, on the basis of the data presented here, it appears there are no groups of substantial proportions in American society whose values are neutral with respect to crime.  The beliefs and values that feed delinquency are not peculiar to any social class or (nondelinquent) segment of the population.  230

There is therefore no set standard as to what economic type of child will find themselves in a criminal life, the control theorists state that the determining factor in rehabilitation is in fact the bond between minority and parent, and by extension, minority and society.  In the process of conformity and sense of value in a community a minority is more likely to acquiesce to the standards expected of him/her and thereby become a working member of the society and not a delinquent.  Rehabilitation is found in the ingrained morality that is given to the delinquent by their parent and that is something that the minority justice system does not always agree with in their actions of sending boys and girls to detention centers instead of to their parents[7].

The at-risk youth need to be rehabilitated and, as stated, being tried as an adult is no alternative, and being incarcerated without a chance of parole and vanquishing the bonds between self and society only furthers the delinquent’s belief in crime being the only way that pays.  Campbell gives an introduction to a different regime in regard to crime prevention after rehabilitation:

Counselors and educators of young offenders and other at-risk youth need to be aware of how various orientations carry different, and sometimes opposing, beliefs and assumptions which create confusion over prevention and intervention practices in community and school. Four primary models are evident[8].  1. Societal change model. Youth crime is a product of society and its institutions (family, community, school) and is beyond the control of the individual. Intervention in this model addresses issues of poverty and inequity in the community rather than “correcting” the individual. 2. Welfare model. The young offender is assumed to be have psycho/social deficiencies that cause offending behavior. Intervention provides appropriate therapy to rehabilitate the individual. 3. Justice model. Society must be protected from offenders. Individuals commit crime of their own free will, must be held responsible, and might pay the penalty set by society under due process. 4. Crime-control model. Societal order is maintained through laws that punish wrong doing, achieve retribution through punishment, and deter criminality by threat of punishment. Youth are no exception.

This model harkens back to control theory in that the responsibility is not in the hands of the offender alone.  In certain instances the split from a home life, and the base that provides with coping with high-pressure situations, lead the young offender down the path of crime.  There are noted deficiencies in coping abilities, anger, and acting out that further the idea that crime allows them to instantaneously get what they want, and deserve.  The minority justice system serves as a course of intervention that allows the chance for the young offender to become rehabilitated.  In control theory, the results depend highly on the bond the young offender forms with relations.  The threat that youth presents to society seems to prevent society from accepting them as anything less than criminal; in this fact it is very difficult to rehabilitate that offender back into society if society doesn’t accept the truth of their rehabilitation.

Gang members are not born criminals, but there is an act of socialization involved in the forming of criminality.  Man is essentially a moral creature, the thoughts housed by the justice system is that that creature must be brought forth from the delinquent through means of jail, programs, and family involvement.  A gang member mindset for minorities is furthered into their lifestyle by exposure and the continued wish to be deviant and unrelated to normal society.  In such wishes there is a fulfillment of conformity found in gangs and friends.  If that gang also commits crime, then the deviant has found a like-minded crew with which to also commit crimes.  The morality base brought forth in control theory over parental control is lessened if the parents themselves show no moral interest in society and their values.

Work Cited

Bender, David &  Bruno Leone (Series Editors)   Minority Crime Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven Press, Inc.  San Diego, 1997.

“Bowen Theory”. (2006). Bowen center for the study of the family. Georgetown Family Center   Online Accessed April 6, 2007, from the World Wide Web address: http://www.thebowencenter.org/pages/theory.html

Campbell, Donald.  Counseling Young Offenders for Rehabilitation and Employment: The       Problem and Promise. ERIC Digest, 1997. < www.ericdigests.org/1997-2/promise.htm>
Corry, B. (1999). Peace offerings: Domestic violence and your unborn baby. Peace Offerings    Inc. Accessed October 18,  2006, from the World Wide Web address:      http://pregnancy.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&s       dn=pregnancy&zu=http%3A%2F%2Fmembers.aol.com%2FSueMKent%2Fb     aby.html

Gelles, R. (1985). Family violence. Annual Review of Sociology. 11. 347-367.

Hirschi, Travis.  Causes of Delinquency.    Transaction Publishers; New Brunswick, 2002.

Houseknecht, S. & Sastry, J. (1996). Family “decline” and            child well-being: A comparative        assessment. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 58 (3):726—739.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2006).            Intimate Partner Violence: Fact        sheet. United States Center  for Disease Control. Accessed April 6, 2007, from the        World Wide Web address: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/ipvfacts.htm

[1] In some instances this is not true, because some theorists say that a crime takes very little time to commit and programs, though semi-affective, do not entirely keep a child away from the criminal lifestyle.  This issue of the minority delinquent will be more thoroughly examined later in the paper.
[2] The minority criminal is only partly responsible for their crimes.  Society, and parents advocate certain standards and expectations from individuals and children.  In these standards there exists the idea of conformity again.  In conformity there is the debate on how a child conforms and to what a child conforms.  In crime, and exposure to crime, a child might see a set of standards in the criminal lifestyle as normal and accepted behavior, as Hirschi states, ” A person may indeed commit acts deviant by the standards of, say, middle-class society, but he cannot commit acts deviant by his own standards.  In other words, theorists from this school see deviant behavior as conformity to a set of standards not accepted by a larger society” (11).

[3] The setting for crime, with control theory, does not hinder upon chaos, but upon parental control.  The parent is a strong influence in the deciding actions of children, as Hirschi states, “Since most delinquent acts are committed outside the home, since few delinquencies are committed at parental urging, and since most detected acts cause parental embarrassment and/or inconvenience, it is not surprising that an image of the delinquent as not only physically but emotionally free of his parents has developed” (83).  As the above states, delinquency is not the conforming ideals of parents.

[4] More on juvenile court systems and the trying of minoritys as adults will be discussed further on in the essay.
[5] Albert K. Cohen, Delinquent Boys, 1955 p 119
[6] As mentioned prior, to be accepted into a group there must be a basis of friendship, of like-minded interests.
[7] This statement is made with the stipulation that the parent is moral and has a sense of self, strong enough to deter their child from committing the same acts.  The parent may not be home enough to protect the child completely but with a little help from the surrounding community and school system the rehabilitation of a minority delinquent can be accomplished.  Here the old proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is most adequately exhibited.
[8] Reid-MacNevin, 1991″A Theoretical Understanding of Current Canadian Minority-Justice Policy.” In A. W. Leschied, P. G. Jaffe, & W. Willis (Eds.), The young offenders act: A revolution in Canadian minority justice (pp. 17-36). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.