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The Crime Problem: “Youth Crime”
Today US citizens feel scared, the crime clock ticks forward each day, the so called man
on the street is afraid to walk on the streets near his home, such is the orgy of violent teen crime.
Youth violence is the second leading cause of death. Juveniles and youth between the age of ten
and twenty-four, commit crimes in huge numbers, from misdemeanour thefts to premeditated
murders, from armed robberies to violent bullying. In most of American neighbourhoods, the
youth crime rate is so high that it has created a climate of fear within the community. The trend
has changed the other way now, which is after a decade of gains in slowing down youth crime.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a considerable growth was evident through arrests
in criminal activities. (Ross, 1988). This paper is about the menace called 'Youth Crime'. Marvin
Wolfgang, a famous criminologist, compiled arrest records for males born and raised in
Philadelphia, in 1945 and in 1958, and it was found by him that just 7 percent in each age group
committed two-thirds of all violent crimes. This included three-fourths of the rapes and
robberies, and nearly all of the murders. They also found that this 7 percent had five or more
arrests before the age of 18. (Crime in America) Violent crime arrest rates declined for males
(10-24 years) from 850.8 arrests per 100,000 populations in 1995 to 423.1 arrests per 100,000 in
Type of ‘Youth Crime’
Burglaries committed is 500,000, out of which only half are reported to the officials out
of which only 6 percent arrests are made, and 5.5% are accused and prosecutions take place, and
less than 5% of the total are convicted for burglaries.
Youth Violence: National Statistics among persons ages 10-24 years, by sex and year,
United States, 1995–2011:
Data source: Violent crime arrest data are from the Uniform Crime Reports of the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htmExternal Web Site)
In today's youth the crime committed is can be as lethal and horrible as the crimes which the
hardened criminals often committed. The kinds of youth crime committed may include, dating
violence which even results in assaults of sexual nature, abuse of parents and elders which
happens when the elderly try to stop the youth from doing something bad like indulging in binge
etc, hate crimes is now very common among youth which happens due to prejudice against
language, ethnicity, religion and origin. Burglaries are now treated as being just another thing,
this happens when the youths belonging to the poor families desire for something which is
beyond reach hence then steal it. Rough and fast driving is another problem with most of the
youth, but then when films like fast and furious are made there are little chance that a simple
'traffic ticket' would anyhow curb this menace.
Content source: Division of Violence Prevention
According to the data published by U.S, Division of Violence Prevention:
• 4.828 teenagers were killed, which is 13 youths killed in a day
• Second top cause of tragic deaths of the youth is homicide
• Homicide deaths in male was 86% and in females 14%
• 82.8 youths were killed with guns
• Government loses $16 billion each year
• 232.8% youths were in some sort of lethal fights in 2011
• Males’ ratio was 40.7% and female 24.4%
• In 2011 16.6% youths carried arms (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
Youth crime according to the police estimates account for more than 60 percent accused
in felony crimes, robberies committed by the teens increased by 54 percent in Boston and a
whopping 102% increase was found in weapons related arrests in 2005, similar crime rate
increase was also evident in New Orleans, Milwaukee, Washington DC, Michigan, New York,
Chicago etcetera. Killing by teen gangsters increased 5 percent in 2005, especially in Oklahoma
City, Omaha, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis and Phoenix saw a
two fold increase in youth related crime, from 13 to 25 percent.
Crime causation theories
Youth crimes are attributed to various reasons, the most likely one for this century being
poverty, broken families and acceptance. Youths turn to stealing because they want to survive as
well as fulfil some of their desires. Teenagers from broken families or families with no family
values, turn to bad habits like binge drinking or boozing because they want to fly away from the
traumatic experiences at home. If the real reasons for youth crime are analyzed, it will be evident
that poverty and broken family are the major factors. Teenage crime seems a crime which
seldom deserves 'breaking news' style of media blitz; it is often taken easily, not to be as serious
as the sinking of Titanic. But it is much more serious than that. Teenagers are the builders of the
nation for tomorrow, they are the ones who will get older and take the reins of this country. If
they are not good then America is going to shape as a poor nation in future.
These theories can vary greatly. Some people believe that concentrated poverty is the
cause of crime. Others believe that criminal behaviour is generally the result of negative
reactions to ordinary human characteristics. There are other theories as well suggesting that
substance abuse and mental health problems are largely responsible for criminal offenses.
Theories of crime causation often vary greatly. While one theory says that poverty is the root
cause of crime, the other says that substance abuse and mental health causes crimes. The theories
selected to analyze the teenage crime are; the Anomie theory and the Social Disorganization
Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist, is one of the founders of modern sociology. He
published his two major books in early 1890s, The Division of Labour in Society in1933 and The
Rules of Sociological Method in 1938. In his book he said that the cause which determines some
social facts should be found among the social fact itself. He then went on to publish in 1897 his
third famous book, Suicide. According to Emile Durkheim four particular environmental
conditions were the core reasons for egoism, altruism, suicide, fatalism and anomie. The Anomie
theory refers to a distinct environmental state when the society 'fails to exercise adequate
regulation or constraint over the goals and desires of its individual members (Durkheim).'
Anomie's concept is based on the overall assumption about biological or psychological nature of
human beings. Merton, as well as most other modern sociologists, borrowed the term "Anomie"
from Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology. (Park, 1952). Robert Merton, the father
of Anomie theory explains that for variations in societies, biology alone cannot define such
phenomenon. He takes help from Durkheim concept that cultural aspects are the reasons for
deviance and in harmony.
Durkheim’s conceptualization of anomie is based on a general assumption about the
psychological or biological nature of an individual human being. Anomie, as a sociological
theory states that criminals also wish to live a normal life and want to be law abiding fellows and
that also are good natured in the actual sense, but due to abnormal conditions and surroundings
they commit crimes. A typology of adaptation is used by Merton by show how people respond
when they face disjunction of means and goals. His famous mode of adaptation is 'innovation'
which is accepted as a logical one from his definitions about relationship between culture and
The Contemporary Theory of Social Disorganization is focused on the performance of a
community as good or bad. A disorganized community, which has high divorce percentage,
poverty and bilingualism, could lead to crime. The abysmal conditions within the community
and its surroundings often work as crime motivators. (Ross, 1988) One critique assumes that the
poor commit more crimes on the basis of necessity.
Research conducted in Chicago by Shaw and McKay, 1942 resulted in the Social
Disorganization theory. They, by using spatial maps examined residential areas of juveniles and
discovered that crime was concentrated in particular areas and were not dispersed across time
and space in the city. According to Shaw and McKay’s research which was held in Chicago, it
was also revealed that crime rates remained high irrespective of which ethnic group resided
there. When these groups moved to relatively low crime locations their criminal activities also
This led Shaw and McKay to believe that crime was a function of neighbourhood
dynamics. They came to the conclusion that the 'socio-economically deprived areas had high
rates of residential mobility and racial heterogeneity and were as socially disorganized. It was
defined by Shaw and McKay that neighbourhoods that were socially disorganized, produced
criminal traditions only to be passed on to the next generation, this was mainly due to the lack of
behavioural regulations.(Morgan). Today research on this theory is two dimensional, number one
is the systemic mode the other is the social collective efficacy. (Sampson, Morenoff and Earls)
Comparison and contrast of the two theories:
Anomie theory is generally a sociological one focusing on the norm violations. It states
that crimes are committed on the basis of abysmal conditions of surroundings which motivates
the individuals to go for crimes. Hence the variable being used is to be poor to explain the
difference between East St. Louis and Scottsdale, AZ. (Edwin Sutherland’s differential
East St. Louis is a city very high on violent crime statistics and youth crime. Due to
tremendous job loss because of industrialization many middle and upper class residents left a city
ridden with poverty, here the average household income is $21,000, compared to the national
average of $50,000. 70% of the populations who are above 16 years of age and over are jobless.
Therefore for the aspiring youth who need their iphones and itabs, the way to get financed is to
commit crime so that their economic needs can be met. It is so assumed that the people of East
St. Louis are mostly poor, because it is assumed that being jobless means being poor, although it
may not be so all the time. According to the idea of one critique, youth crimes are committed
mostly by youths from poor family who have nothing to do but to loiter on streets. This means
that there seems to be a direct variable which is related with crime; poor youth, on the basis of
their necessities, commit crimes. (Crime in America)
Scottsdale, AZ has a low number of crimes, especially youth crimes. It crime rate is 61%
less than East St. Louis, and 50% less than the national average. Jobs outlooks are much better.
Employers expect stronger employment prospects compared with one year ago when the Net
Employment Outlook was 13 percent only. Scottsdale, AZ has less than 10% of its population
who is 16 years of age and over. The ratio of youths with no jobs is quite less which means that a
teenager would not commit crime to buy an iphone or ipad. This analysis shows that crimes are
mostly committed to fulfil the needs than the fulfilment of wants.
There is a subcategory in the theory of Anomie which explains another variable. Blau and
Blau part of an anomie theory takes the use of racial inequality in order to measure crime rate.
The hypothesis is tested through a 2-step algorithm. First step is that racial inequality leads to
hostility as well as anger. The second step is that these two emotional trauma leads to crime. The
third variable is about connection between racial inequality and crime. If within a community
there are people of different languages and traditions, chances of confrontation is more which
again can leads to crime. Another variable is population while explaining theory of social
disintegration. The population of East St. Louis is greater than Scottsdale, AZ. Congested
communities or cities with higher population levels which comprise of jobless youth cause more
crimes on macro level because the people are not secured financially and have little informal
control on social integration. A social control which is weak will eventually lead to crime, as
defined in the Social Disorganization theory. It is noted that the Anomie theory happens to be the
theory that can explain crime occurrences among the youth. The Social Disorganization theory
can also explain the criminal phenomena. The human nature is unique; it even gets impressed by
locations and can go far ahead to help commit crime.
A community which is weak and unable to organize its youth is capable of committing
crimes; this is what the Social Disorganization theory explains. A model used to analyze this
theory is by using concentric circles where within the centre of the city each zone is bifurcated
into various functional zones. According to Social Disorganization theory, social control if not
strong enough will result in the increase of crime. The core variable which relates to this case as
well as the theory is poverty. Scottsdale, AZ is better off while East St. Louis has a great number
of jobless youth, this causes more crimes on macro level. As per the Social Disorganization
theory, social control which is weak will ultimately lead to neighbourhood crime.( The Anomie
The other variable which would ultimately leads to better social integration and control is
the concept of home ownership although the macro level analysis is not focused on family issues.
The findings of the professional literature on juvenile delinquency, Kevin Wright, the Professor
of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Binghamton, defined that his research
confirms that those parents who raise their children in an affectionate and friendly manner are
not likely to turn deviant. But the ones who are neglected by their parents have more chances. It
establishes the theory that family conditions are the causes of youth crime and the absence of the
father is the single most important cause of poverty. (The Heritage Foundation)
Strengths and Weakness:
Strengths: Broadly generalized and more realistic
Weaknesses: Speaks in depth about poor families and assumes that only poor commit
crimes while overlooking spontaneous crimes.
Social Disorganization theory
Strengths: Role of social influence from the peers is well defined as well as from the
parents and community. Importance of cognitive factors is focused.
It is a predictor of teenage crime
Considered to be a leading theory which is especially related to community crime
Weaknesses: It is quite simplified; there may be some other factors that changes
behaviour such as genetics.
Questionable; whether or not vicarious reinforcements are consistent enough to change
Concluding it all it can be said that the Anomie theory and the Social Disorganization
theory are the theories that can account for the rise of youth crimes in cities and neighbourhoods.
The Anomie theory is focused on macro level analysis. The variables used are poverty and
family values. Professor Rolf Loeber of the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine says
that evidence is present for the crucial period during a child's early life; this is the time when
attachment among parents and the child takes shape and assists him to understand pro social
attitudes and skills to deter unruly acts. Broken family members often resort to crimes because
sincere maternal affection is the basis for the development of a conscience and moral empathy
with others. But the facts about youth crime tell us other things apart from theories and modules.
Poor will get poorer. The mortgage rates, the interest rates combined with inflation will
eventually cause youth crime to happen, and it is happening all around the world including
America. Most of the youth do not have the right food or a good shelter; they are leaving
something called hope, because they assume that they cannot make up their way up the ladder
without stealing, cheating, and other such criminal activities. Today students appear for classes
without proper pen and notebooks. Many just watch the fortunate ones leaving for excursions as
they or their parents cannot afford it. Their dwelling place is the poor areas in the city, where
crimes are high. After 2000, American cities saw a huge resurgence of urban based lethal
violence by teenage youth, a federally funded report says. Similarly the one thing that has gone
up is the rate of divorce. (The Foundry)
More unfortunate families are facing this trauma while the children go to study at school,
much worried and unhappy about the life at home. Necessity is the mother of invention, the need
for something and not being able to get it ultimately leads the poor youth to commit crime.
Rising teenage crime across the US is a testimony to this. Teenagers should be supported in more
ways than one, parents are their best friends in need and they should be the ones who come to
their support and care. The recession is still on, whether one confirms it or not. Most of the
middle class and the poor now feel financially hurt. The biggest causality of this recession is
particularly one segment, the youth. Coming out of colleges and finding no jobs is their biggest
shocker. To put these youth to work is the most important responsibility for the civil society and
Candice Leigh Helfand (2013) Retrieved
Crime in America (n.d) Retrieved from: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/crime.html
Edwin Sutherland’s differential association (n.d) Retrieved
Morgan, R. (Texas A&M University) Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services:
Park, R. (1952) Human Communities: The City and Human Ecology. Glencoe, Ill
Ross L.M. (1988). The current state of differential association theory. Crime and Delinquency
Sampson, Morenoff and Earls. (1999)
The Foundry (n.d) Retrieved from: http://blog.heritage.org/2009/10/27/adult-time-for-adult-
The Heritage Foundation (n.d) Retrieved from
The Anomie Tradition (n.d) Retrieved from