A Measurement of Delinquency Differences between a Delinquent and Nondelinquent Sample: What Are the Implications?

Article excerpt

Several years ago juvenile misbehavior was generally perpetrated by youths who were not enrolled in school (Fagan, Forst, & Vivon, 1987; Poulos & Orschowsky, 1994; Strasburg, 1984). The acts were usually performed away from the vicinity of the school. This safe zone no longer exists. Today, many of those detained by juvenile authorities are enrolled in public school and attend fairly regularly. Many of their offenses are now committed on school grounds and are directed toward fellow students or staff members (McDermott, 1983; Wilson, 1977). Juvenile delinquency is no longer the concern of only the juvenile authorities; it is now of concern to the general public and the public schools. The increase in serious juvenile crime has brought on a need for community protection and a more punitive juvenile justice system (Fagan et al., 1987; Hamparian, 1982).

The acts of violence in the nation's schools and surrounding communities have received attention from the media, parents, and educators. Public school systems have begun cooperating with other agencies such as law enforcement, community (social) services, and child care institutions to help curtail the threat. In order to reduce delinquency, the educational institution has become more sophisticated in identifying and assisting in the organizing of programs for potential and active delinquent students (Cernkovich & Giordano, 1992; Polk & Schafer, 1972).

In the present study two samples of school-age youths were surveyed in reference to delinquent involvement. They were compared in two areas: (1) the level of delinquent activity committed within one year; and (2) the variables frequently associated with delinquency. It is believed that information derived from this comparison can be helpful in implementating policies by agencies which focus on reducing juvenile crime.

METHOD

Two groups consisting of 426 males and 106 females who were being held in custody by the juvenile authority of a southwestern county (the delinquent sample) and 174 males and 180 females who were high school students in an inner-city public school district (the nondelinquent sample) located in the same county, participated in the study. Those identified as nondelinquent may have been detained by delinquent authorities before participating in the study but were not on probation or incarcerated at the time of this survey.

The delinquent sample was composed of 45% black, 30% white, 24% Hispanic, and 1% other. Twenty-nine percent were in the ninth grade while the remaining grades (6-8 and 10-12) contained lesser percentages. Nine percent were not enrolled in school even though they may have been of school age; 59% were from single-parent homes and of these, 65% had no father figure present.

The nondelinquent sample was composed of 57% black, 31% white, 8% Hispanic, and 4% other. Forty-five percent were in the tenth grade while the ninth, eleventh, and twelfth grades contained lesser percentages. Those who were 15 and 16 years of age made up 29 and 35% of the nondelinquent sample, respectively. Sixteen percent were from single-parent homes and of these, 15% had no father figure present.

All participants were administered a self-reported crime index to determine criminal activity within the previous year; 74% of the male and 69% of the female delinquents reported high participation in delinquency consisting of minor offenses (taking items from desks or lockers at school, vandalism, and stealing items valued at or less than two dollars); 33 and 17% of the nondelinquent sample reported high participation in delinquency consisting of minor offenses; 73% and 76%, respectively, of the delinquents reported problems in the areas of school and family (a second delinquent category representing acts such as truancy, running away, and hitting parents); 26% and 25%, respectively, of the nondelinquents reported high participation in delinquent acts identified in the second category; 77% and 76%, respectively, of the delinquents reported having committed illegal acts in the third category of drugs and "medium" criminal acts (i. …

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