Len Wade is a young offender who received a custodial sentence in 2007. His current offences all involve ‘Burglary of Dwelling’, the first of which was committed on the 24th February 2007, the second on the 26th February 2007 and the third on the 18th March 2007. He also admitted a further nine similar offences which were taken into consideration. The main theories used to analysis Wade’s behaviour will be; The Social Bond Theory, Self Control Theory and The Differential Association Theory. Recent empirical literature regarding factors associated with the onset of, persistence in and desistance from youthful offending will also be explored.
Hirschi’s Social bond theory (SBT) proposes that the stronger an individuals attachments, commitments, involvement and beliefs are then the less likely they will be encouraged to break the law. It’s these four social bonds that can serve to promote socialisation and conformity. SBT seeks to understand the ways in which it’s possible to reduce the likelihood of criminality developing in individuals. Hirschi claimed that ‘delinquent acts result when the individual’s bond to society is weak or broken’ (1969). Attachments refer to ‘the emotional intensity of one human being’s involvement in another’ (Feldman, 1977). It includes attachment to parents, family, partners and peers. This bond refers to a person’s sensitivity to and interest in others, the extent and strength of attachment to others and the extent to which offending would place that attachment in jeopardy.
Hirschi argued that attachment to family members is an important source of protection from deviant behaviour. In the 1995 study by Graham and Bowling 70%of young people who said they were weakly attached to their family were offenders compared with 42%of offenders who said they were strongly attached to their families. This finding supports Hirschi’s SBT in relation to attachment and appears to confirm that family attachments play an important role in desistance from deviant behaviour. Although the Prison Probation Officer’s report (PPO) says that Wade had a clear affection for his family, his relationship with both his mother and father was likely to have been under a lot of strain as his father had mental health problems and his mother had to deal with five children to look after.
It’s evident from past research that a bad relationship with the father has a strong and statistically significant relationship with offending for both males and females; In the Graham and Bowling study 80 % of males who got on badly wither their fathers had offended compared with 43% who got on well with them. Wade’s relationship with his father can assumed to have been difficult and strained. Johnson (1987) believed that the role of the father was critical in determining behaviour of children, even if this link is not direct it has been argued that a bad relationship with one parent may produce other effects such as reducing the capacity of parents to exercise effective supervision, (Gove ; Crutchfield, 1982).
Although Wade’s mother was said to have been supportive, she was under a lot of pressure in trying to maintain family life. This is likely to have impacted on a lack of parental supervision, the fact that Wade started smoking heroin at 13 is indicative of this. Supervision has been found to be strongly associated to offending. 32% of males and females who were closely supervised admitted offending compared to 53% and 30% of those who were not, (Graham & Bowling, 1995).
Attachment to peers tends to be just as important as parental attachment, As young children become older, peers begin to replace parents as a focus of social approval and status, emotional support and identity formation, (Graham & Bowling, 1995). This research on delinquent peer groups has shown they are strong influences on whether some young people start offending, the odds of becoming an offender were nearly four times higher among males who associated with delinquent peers, compared to those who did not. Wade’s strongest social bonds appear to be with his peers, although these attachments may be strong it is evident that they have influenced him to take drugs and participate in antisocial behaviour.
Commitment involves the time, energy and effort invested in conventional avenues and activities. Hirschi (1969) believed risk of losing or jeopardising one’s investment, reputation, position and standing all contribute to desistance from deviation. Wade appeared to have no commitments to risk and could deviate without fear of damaging his reputation. However Hirschi failed to acknowledge how deviant acts many have positive impacts on a criminals reputation in regards to their social standing from within their deviant peer group, which was probably the case for Wade. Commitment refers to the ‘rational element’ in the social bond.
Individuals do not persist in lines of activity unless there is something in it for them. This is similar to an analysis of behaviour in reward-cost terms, (Feldman, 1977). The greater the overall loss from a behaviour the less likely it is to be carried out. A limitation of this is that Hirschi largely leaves out the reward side (potential gains following deviant acts) which in Wade’s case would be the gain of money to fund his drug addiction following theft or burglary. Shover (1985) found that commitment to a person or job led to the development of a daily routine which consequently left little or no time for criminal involvement.
Involvement in conventional activities leaves little time for illegal behaviour; this pre-occupation can include family, employment and other conventional activities. Drug taking appears to be Wade’s only involvement, in The Home Area Probation Officer’s Report (HPO) Wade has said he has “nowt else to do”. The PPO report states that at the time of Wade’s offences he was addicted to heroin, had no formal source of income and therefore offended as a way of obtaining money to feed his addiction. The correlation between the use of drugs and delinquent acts is well established. According to Ronald Akers, ” compared to the obtaining teenager, the drinking, smoking and drug taking teen is much more likely to be getting into fights, stealing hurting other people and committing other delinquencies”, (Akers 1984, quoted in Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990).
The PBM report stated that Wade started using drugs at 13, initially cannabis then crack cocaine soon after, he used heroin to come down. Wade’s behaviour is supported by the 2005 Offending Crime and Justice survey which found that young people who took drugs in the last 12 months were significantly more likely to have committed an offence, this true for both serious and frequent offending. The 1998/99 Youth Lifestyle Survey (YLS), 2005 found this relationship is strongest for younger teens that had used drugs in the last year; they were five times more likely to be offenders than non-drug users. Leffert and Petersen (1995) concluded that the heavy use of drugs and alcohol carries an increased risk of criminal behaviour. It is evident from this to conclude that Wade’s involvement in drugs is crucial to explaining his offending.
Beliefs refer to the extent of acceptance of law-abiding norms. It also refers to a belief in a common value, the degree of assent to conventional values, including respect for the law and law enforcers. People who live in the same social settings often share common moral beliefs; they may adhere to such values as sharing, sensitivity to the rights of others, and admiration for the legal code. In the Parole Board Member’s Report (PBM) Wade was said to have had an abusive attitude towards staff, indicating a lack of respect for law authority. The Probation Officer’s report (PPO) also showed an example of his weaken belief when Wade’s offending was made more serious when he committed offences both on licence and bail.
Previous studies have suggested that the effects of family size on delinquency are due to greater levels of stress and poverty experienced by large families (Utting et al, 1993), and their ability to supervise and control their offspring compared to parents in smaller families (Wilson, 1980), this could certainly be the case for Wade. As the youngest of five children it may be assumed that Wade did not receive the attention he required whilst growing up, all of these factors may help explain why Wade started offending. In a large study by The Gluecks (1952), a significant relationship was found between criminal behaviour and the incidence of unwholesome aspects of home life, notably in respect to factors such as family cohesiveness, supervision and discipline, all of which Wade was likely to have been deprived of.
Hirschi argued that unattached youth drift together into delinquent groups because weak social bonds fail to prevent both association with delinquents and delinquency itself. However it may simply be that delinquents flock together, supporting delinquency but not giving rise to it, (Home office, 2005). There is also evidence that anti-social children are not liked by others and so gain popularity in a deviant peer group that they lack elsewhere (Parker ; Asher, 1987, quoted in Rutter et al 1998:196). This research is able to help explain Wade’s behaviour, in the PPO it states that as a child Wade’s difficulties led him to seek regard amongst his peers, he became involved in their anti-social lifestyle and was introduced to drugs at an early age.
Hirschi (1969) concludes that any type of social attachment is beneficial; however Hindlelang, (1973) found that attachment to delinquent peers escalated rather than restricted criminal behaviour. This appears to be the case with regards to Wade. In the PPO it says that Wade began to offend in adolescence and that he felt it was largely to conform to the norms in his peer group. Wade has engaged in criminal behaviour with his peers and like him, they are drug users.
Research has shown that associating with other offenders increases the likelihood of offending (Graham ; Bowling, 1995), and is able to help explain Wade’s offending. If an individual has peers, family members, or associates that are deviant this may motivate youths to commit crimes and also facilitate an antisocial behaviour (Vander Ven et al, 2001). In conclusion it can be argued that Hirschi’s social bond theory is unable to fully explain the reasons behind Wade’s behaviour, as it does not take situational factors into account. Wade’s drug addiction is the primary cause of his offending; he committed burglaries in order to fund his drug habit.
The self-control theory (Hirschi and Gottfredson, 1990) assumes that the lower self-control an individual has, the higher the likelihood of deviance and social instability. In contrast having high self-control promotes the likelihood of conformity. The self- control theory (SCT) claims that crime flows from low self-control, it provides a direct, simple gratification of desires that is attractive to those who cannot or will not postpone pleasure, The HPO states that Wade would sell the proceeds that he stole and would then ‘buy as many rocks as he could and smoke them’ He would feel “nice inside” and ‘generally love it for two or three minutes’.
The instant gratification of pleasure the drugs would give Wade indicates a lack of self control. People lacking self-control will also tend to pursue immediate pleasures that are not criminal such as smoking, drinking and using drugs given Wade’s history this certainly suggests he suffered from Low self-control. Participation in ‘delinquent peer groups’ is indicative of a lack self-control, or unconcern for long-range goals or benefits. The SCT is able to offer a reason why Wade was part of a delinquent group, and his lack of long-term goals.
The level of self-control depends principally on the quality of parenting and socialisation in the early years, monitoring, recognising, responding and sanctioning, In the PPO Wade admits to having ‘tantrums’ as a child, and he can indeed be said to have suffered from a lack of attention in his family life, SCT claims a child’s level of self-control can be determined by the time the child is seven or eight, SCT implies Len Wade’s levels of self control may be lower than usual and therefore he is more likely to commit crimes.
Sutherland developed the Differential Association Theory (DAT) that suggests that individuals learn criminal behaviour while in their adolescence from family members and peers (Sutherland, 1939). The DAT sets out to explain how criminal behaviour develops, and in what circumstances. Its central emphasis is on learning, as the following points (taken from Sutherland and Cressey, 1970), which contain the core of the theory make very clear. Firstly criminal behaviour is learned and it is learned in interaction with other people through communication. The Home Area Probation Officer’s Report (HPO) says that Wade acknowledged that he was “introduced” to crime and drugs by his peers. In perspective of DAT it makes sense that Wade learned his deviant behaviour though his interaction with his peers.
The principle part of the learning of criminal behaviour occurs within intimate personal groups. When behaviour is learned, the learning includes (a) techniques of committing the crime and (b) the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations and attitudes. This can be directly related to Wade as it was not until he became involved within his group of peers that his criminal behaviour started. Wade learned the specific techniques of his crimes as a result of interacting with his peers, in the HPO it states that many of his thefts were committed as “sneak, distraction offences”. The HPO states that Wade initially found crime and drugs “exciting” and that it became “a way of life”. This supports one point of DAT that the specific direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favourable or unfavourable.
A person becomes criminal because of an excess of definitions favourable to violation of law over definitions unfavourable to violation of law. The HPO states that Wade admits he had “nowt else to do” and that it was “exciting” highlighting a lack of concern for his violation of the law and more favourability to deviance. Differential association may vary in frequency, duration, priority and intensity, in the PPO Wade displayed an example of this when his offending was made more serious by the fact he committed offences both on licence and bail and his repeat offence against one of his victims.
Finally while criminal behaviour is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those general needs and values, since non-criminal behaviour is an expression of the same needs and values, for example the need for money, whilst criminals like Wade will try to obtain money in illegal ways, a non-criminal will obtain money through means such as legal employment. Therefore it cannot be lack of money itself that explains Wade’s criminal behaviour. The learning principles of this theory can easily directly applied to Wade’s behaviour and offers an alternative explanation that places emphasise on situational factors, that the SBT failed to recognise. However it may oversimplification of Wade’s behaviour as it’s based on a set of assertions and fails to recognise individual differences and personality as reasoning behind his actions.
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