Drug Use and Violent Crime among Adolescents

By Dawkins, Marvin P. | Adolescence, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview
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Drug Use and Violent Crime among Adolescents


Dawkins, Marvin P., Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

The relationship between crime and the use of alcohol and other drugs has received a great deal of attention in previous research (Banay, 1942; O'Donnell, 1966; Harper, 1976; Shanok, Pincus, & Glaser, 1979; McCord, 1981; Gary, 1980; Simonds & Kashani, 1980; Dawkins & Dawkins, 1983; Clayton & Tuchfeld, 1982; Lewis, Cloninger, & Pais, 1983; Anglin & Speckart, 1988; Collins, 1988; Wieczorek, Welte, & Abel, 1990). Studies have generally revealed a positive association between criminal behavior and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. An important aspect of this association has been the degree to which violent crimes are linked to the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Among delinquents, the familiar categorization of "person" offenses versus "property" offenses (O'Donnell, 1966) further implies that differences exist between two types of offenders in terms of the nature of alcohol and drug involvement. For example, it is commonly assumed that violent crimes (offenses against persons) are more likely to be committed by persons who abuse "hard" drugs (e.g., heroin and cocaine), while less serious crimes (offenses against property) are committed by users of alcohol and marijuana. However, the research literature reveals conflicting evidence. For example, Simonds and Kashani (1980) found that the number of drugs abused by an offender rather than the specific type of drug was most predictive of being a member of the "person" offending group. Clayton and Tuchfeld (1982) and Anglin and Speckart (1988) provided further evidence that heavy drug users are more likely to be involved in violent criminal activity. In contrast, substantial research suggests that alcohol abuse is the most important substance-related factor in homicides and other types of violent crime (Harper, 1976; Harper & Dawkins, 1977; Gary, 1980; Dawkins, 1980; Harper, 1980; Dawkins & Dawkins, 1983; Collins, 1988; Wieczorek, Welte, & Abel, 1990). For example, Wieczorek, Welte, and Abel (1990) found that homicide offenders tend to drink heavily prior to committing their crimes.

In an effort to resolve the inconsistent findings of previous research, Yu and Williford (1994) examined and found support for a model which specifies the relationships among criminality and the use of alcohol and other drugs in terms of a developmental sequence. According to Yu and Williford, who studied individuals in jails, drinking-driver programs, and alcoholism treatment centers, the early onset of legal drug use (e.g., alcohol and cigarettes) induces the onset of illicit drug use (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) and eventually leads to involvement in criminal activity, including offenses against persons and property. Further, the use of alcohol and cocaine are mainly responsible for the increase in violent criminal behavior (Yu & Williford, 1994). Despite the model's utility, these authors suggested the need for future research to focus on the direct relationship between specific types of crime and specific types of drugs. In addition, previous studies have been restricted to adult samples and a range of offenses too limited to specify types of violent and nonviolent crimes (for exceptions see: Tinklenberg & Woodrow (1974) and Simonds & Kashani (1980).

The purpose of the present study was to address the shortcomings of earlier studies and extend the research by examining the relationship between specific categories of alcohol and drug use and specific types of criminal offenses committed by adolescents, with a focus on the distinction between violent and nonviolent offenses. The importance of alcohol and other drug use relative to conventional criminal history factors as correlates of crime among adolescent offenders was also assessed.

METHOD

Data were collected from adolescent offenders at a juvenile training school in a northeastern state. The school included 416 incarcerated juvenile delinquents, and is the only facility in the state for adjudicated juvenile offenders.

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