Self-Reported Delinquency among Alberta's Youth: Findings from a Survey of 2,001 Junior and Senior High School Students

Article excerpt

Youth violence continues to be of great concern in North America. A recent poll of 1,520 Canadians revealed that while 44% felt that the crime rate is rising, 71% believed that youth crime is increasing (EKOS Research Associates, Inc., 2000). This level of concern, however, seems to be out of proportion with the reality of youth violence. Researchers have described the preoccupation with youth violence as a moral panic that has been fuelled by exaggerated media attention (Dolmage, 1996; Sullivan & Miller, 1999). There is cause for concern not so much because of the prevalence of youth violence--indeed, there is much evidence supporting its decline (Doob & Sprott, 1998; Stevenson, Tufts, Hendrick, & Kowalski, 1999; Statistics Canada, 2001)--but because this kind of attention has put pressure on educational institutions as well as the wider community to treat all young people as potentially violent. The impact of this pressure is reflected in the responses from government, school officials, and others, where pr ocedures and laws have become increasingly punitive and oppressive. Development of more effective and creative ways to respond to youth violence requires the recognition that youth delinquency is complex.

The present paper attempts to further examine, through the use of self-report data, relationships between extent of past-year delinquency and gender, grade level, psychosocial problems, and extent of past-year victimization. By including a range of both noncriminal and criminal acts in analyzing delinquency and victimization, the findings are intended to portray a fuller and more accurate description of the experiences of Canadian youth.

METHOD

Findings presented in this paper draw on data from a 1999 study on youth victimization, crime and delinquency in Alberta conducted by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) in collaboration with researchers from the University of Alberta (Gomes, Bertrand, Paetsch, & Hornick, 2000). The province of Alberta is located in western Canada and has a population of approximately 3 million, 80% of whom reside in urban areas.

A self-report questionnaire was distributed to junior (Grades 7, 8, and 9) and senior (Grades 10, 11, and 12) high school students aged 12 to 18. The survey was conducted in the spring and fall of 1999. The self-report method utilized in the study is recognized by researchers studying offending behavior as an effective means to obtain information about delinquency and victimization not available from official data sources (Bowling, Graham, & Ross, 1994; Creechan & Silverman, 1995; Tanner, 2001). This method offers the advantage of providing information about incidents not reported by the police as well as information about incidents not reported to the police or possibly to anyone at all.

Survey

In total, 67 junior and senior high schools from the public and separate (Catholic) systems agreed to participate in the survey. These schools were located in 15 cities, towns and rural areas. Selection of schools (excluding those with special or alternative curriculums) was made randomly where possible. In larger cities, one public senior high school and two public junior high schools, and one Catholic senior high school and two Catholic junior high schools were randomly chosen from each geographic quadrant of the city. This method was also utilized in smaller cities where there were sufficient numbers of schools. Random selection was not possible in towns and rural areas that had only one public and/or one Catholic school.

Selection of students to survey was also made randomly where possible. Based on provincial enrollments by grade, a proportionate stratification sampling technique was utilized to determine target sample sizes for each of the grade levels. With the help of school officials, student names and addresses were randomly generated from enrollment records. …