Chapter 3: The Nature of Delinquency


Learning resources: (1) OJJDP, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report; (2) National Child Abuse Statistics -


Age Jurisdiction

·         Juvenile/Family Courts have jurisdiction (meaning “authority”) over all those under a certain age (in most states 18) with regard to:

v  Delinquent acts

v  Status offenses

v  Abuse and neglect



·         From Mentally Disturbed to Well Adjusted

·          From Striving for Acceptance to “Just Business”

·          From Means of Survival to Hedonistic Behavior

·          From Individual to Highly Organized Behavior

·          From Restricted Acts to Generic Deviation

·          From Prankish Behavior to Intended Harm

·          From the Isolated Act to Chronic Behavior

·          From Status Offenses to Criminal Law Violations


Some Words of Caution


·         These variations have been presented merely to illustrate that “delinquents,” like humans in general, cannot be described as one-dimensional.

·         In short, there is no real “typical delinquent.”

·         No one single act is the same as another


Take the context of “assaults” for example


·         A young girl who has been habitually running away from home (often for a very good reason, such as sexual abuse) attempts to run one more time but her mother gets in her way and the girl “bumps” into her on the way out the door. 

·         According to the law, the mother can file an “assault” charge against the daughter which immediately transforms what is really a “status offense” to a “delinquent” offense, with a more serious punishment to follow.

·         I have heard stories that some probation officers advise parents who want more control over their “delinquent” daughters to get in their way purposely in order to warrant a charge of “assault”


Property Crimes


·                     Shoplifting – the all American crime

·         One-third of males and one-fourth of females have shoplifted

·         Peer group importance

·         Hanging out together in shopping malls a common practice

·         Consumerism is a big part of our culture

·                     Burglary

·                     Theft from automobiles and vending machines also common

·                     Vandalism

·         Mostly a male offense (about 90%)

·         Most common in affluent societies – rare in poor societies

·         School property is one of the most common, but so are parks, public transportation facilities, libraries, churches, houses, cars, parking meters, vending machines

·         Mostly a group activity

·         Three types:

·         Wanton - nonutilitarian

·         Predatory – economically oriented

·         Vindictive – “hate crime” targeting specific groups


Graffiti: A Special Form of Vandalism


·                     Gangs use graffiti to:

·         identify their existence (to tell others who they are)

·         mark a specific area as their turf (for example, by writing on a wall, a building, or other structure)

·         challenge rival gangs, and to commemorate members who have died in battles.

·         Graffiti can be used as a “newspaper of the street” or a community memo.

·         Modern gang graffiti serves the following purposes:

·         Identifying the Neighborhood of the Gang  (VP-13 )

·         Making Certain Pronouncements (challenge/show disrespect for a rival gang)

·         Commemorating the Dead (RIP)

·         Using Numbers (Ace, Duce, Trey).

·         Identifying Subgroups, Cliques, and Sets (LxL = Little Locos)

·         Location  (w/s V13 ‘= Venice 13)

·         Taggers (ACME, BNEE, ASTRO)





·                     Four motivations for motor-vehicle theft:

·         Joyriding

·         Transportation

·         Commission of other crimes

·         Commercial theft.

·                     Joyriding is often defined as “operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s permission”

·                     While most auto thieves have extensive records, those who engage in joyriding do not.

·                     This is typically a teenage crime, and the perpetrators are not “career criminals”

·                     The automobile is extremely important in U.S. culture, as it often means freedom

·                     Rite of passage for teens is getting a license – no wonder most crimes peak around age 16

·                     Automobiles represent another aspect of U.S. capitalism where property and money are like gods, worshipped and protected as such.




Violent Crimes


·                     With the help of a few nearsighted criminologists (plus a few other conservative politicians)

·                     The Culture of Fear – media driven fear of crime and terrorists, etc.

·                     Fostered by the “it could happen anywhere to anyone” myth.

·         To be distinguished from ordinary precautions one uses (look both ways before crossing the street, lock your doors, etc.)

·                     Guns 

·                      ¾ of murdered kids killed by guns

·         US rate for kids under 18 killed by a gun = 0.94 vs. 0.06 in15 other industrialized democracies

·         Of course, it is not only the guns, as it also stems from a culture of violence in our society

·         We love violence and we pay billions of dollars to see it on TV and the movie screen resulting in billions of dollars in advertising revenue for the nightly news—hence the popular phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads.”


The Demographic Fallacy


·                     More Kids Does Not Equal More Crime!

·                     Note how wrong were the predictions of criminologist James Alan Fox

·                     California study by Males and Macallair found that:

·         Violent crime arrest rates between 1978 and 1998 actually increased the most for those between the ages of 30 and 49, rather than the 10–17 age group. The older group’s arrest rate went up by 97 percent, compared to a decrease of 32 percent for the 10–17 age group

·         During the 1980s the violent crime rate for juveniles went up, yet California’s teenage population declined. Then in the 1990s the violent crime rate went down, while the teen population was going up

Gang Violence


·                     Joan Moore’s study found higher rates of violence among Chicano gangs of East LA during the 1970s and 1980s than during the Post WWII era – why?

·                     More intent on hurting someone, greater impersonality of violence and the decline of the “fair fight,” increase in “locura” (craziness), need to outdo the reputation of their predecessors, along with the “code of the barrio.”

·                     Guns -  You don’t have to be a good shot with modern weapons.

·                     Also, selling drugs, with weapons becoming part of “doing business.”

·                     Reminiscent of blood feuds, as they involve people who grew up together in the same area and intimacy often increases feelings and high emotions.

·                     Growing numbers of alienated young males in barrios and ghettos, with little hope.

·                     Perhaps this relates to the differences between modern inner-city youth with those growing up in the Post WW II era – perhaps back then there was more hope


The Code of the Streets


         The street subculture contains norms opposed to those of mainstream society – called “the streets”

         In contrast, there are “decent” families who are “committed to middleclass values.”

         Youths (including from “decent” families) must be able to handle themselves in a street-oriented environment.

     The parents of such youths actually encourage them to at least become familiar with these norms.

         Code of the streets

     informal rules governing interpersonal public behavior, including violence.

     prescribe both a proper comportment and a proper way to respond if challenged.

     regulate the use of violence and allow those who are inclined to aggression to precipitate violent encounters in an approved way.


Respect - the heart of the code  


         Defined as being treated right, or with proper deference

         Something that is “hard-won but easily lost,” and thus one must be ready to guard against its being taken away.

         If one is “bothered” in public, it means that one may not only be in physical danger but be disgraced, or, as in current slang, one has been “dissed,” or disrespected.

     While many of the examples of what constitutes “dissin” (e.g., maintaining eye contact for too long) may seem trivial to middle-class people, to those involved in the subculture of the gang these events are of major importance

         The code is a subcultural adaptation to the lack of faith in the justice system (especially the police), which does not respect or protect them.

         Many residents have taken on the responsibility of protecting themselves from those who would violate them. The code of the streets, therefore, takes over where the police and judicial system end.


Decent vs. street families


         Decent parents

     accept mainstream values and try to instill them in their children.

     Most are among the working poor, and they place a high value on hard work and self-reliance.

     They want their children to stay in school and better themselves.

     They tend to be strict parents and warn their children to be on the lookout for bad people and bad situations.

         Street parents

     show a lack of consideration for others and are often unable to cope with the demands of parenthood.

     strongly believe in the code and try to instill it in their children.

     lives often disorganized

     they often engage in self-destructive behavior, largely as a result of their lowly status and their frustration over bills, lack of jobs and food, and so on.

     Many of the women get involved in drugs and abusive relationships with men.

     They often become bitter and angry, and they have short fuses, causing them to lash out at anybody who irritates them.


The women in street families


         Often at home with children and no man in the house

         Often aggressive with their children

     yelling and striking at them with little or no explanation.

         Such verbal and physical punishment teaches children a lesson:

     that to solve any kind of interpersonal problem one must quickly resort to hitting or other violent behavior.

     they may love their children, but this is the only way they know how to control them.

     Many believe that there is a “devil in the boy” and that this must be “beaten out of him” or that “fast girls need to be “whupped.”


The children of street families


         often ignored by their mothers, and so they often learn to fend for themselves at a very early age.

         They become children of the street and they “come up hard.”

         Many work for drug dealers and learn to fight at an early age.

         these children learn that might makes right and that in order to protect oneself  they need to be ready to deal with adversity in a hands-on way.


         physical prowess takes on great significance.

         In the most extreme cases, a street-oriented mother may leave her children alone for several days.

     This is most common among women with drug and/or alcohol problems (especially crack addicts).

     For these children, a very harsh lesson is learned: 

         Survival itself, let alone respect, cannot be taken for granted; you have to fight for your place in the world.

         While growing up, these children get these messages reinforced verbally by other family members, neighbors, and friends.

         They are told “Watch your back,” “Don’t punk out,” and “If someone disses you, you got to straighten them out.”

         Some parents even impose sanctions if their children do not live up to these norms.

     “Don’t you come in here crying that somebody beat you up; you better get back out there and whup his ass.”

     “If you don’t whup his ass, I’ll whup your ass when you come home.”

     Even some decent parents give similar warnings about the need for self-defense.


What the “code” teaches


         Presentation of self.

         Need to prove to others that one is willing and able to use violence and that one can take care of oneself.

         One communicates this message through facial expressions and a certain way of walking and talking (including the words one selects).

         According to the code, maintaining one’s honor or respect is crucial, and to do this it is necessary to show others one cannot be messed with or “dissed.”

         Manhood within this subculture is defined in terms of concerns over one’s identity and self-esteem.

         To be a man within this subculture is to be concerned with one’s level of respect.

         But the irony is that ones safety is more apt to be threatened in public because manhood is associated with respect.

         Manhood and respect, therefore, are two sides of the same coin. In short, being a man means being in control, in charge


Sex Offenses


Public Order Offenses



Status Offenses


      Typically Includes the following


      Curfew violations


      Incorrigible, unmanageable, etc.

      Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (1974) prohibited the placement of status offenders in locked detention in states receiving federal funds.

      Amended in 1980 to allow courts to lock up status offenders after they violated a valid court order (VCO) – usually committed another status offense.




      About 1.6 million youths run away from home each year

      The recession that began in 2008 has fueled an increase in runaways

      As many as 500,000 youths are by themselves on the streets of large cities

      Running away from home typically follows a lengthy period of intense family conflict.

      What usually occurs is abuse or overly strict discipline or, in many cases, both.  Runaways often feel unwanted, abused, neglected and rejected by their parents.