The Occurrence of Delinquency
Since 1927, the U.S. Children's Bureau has circulated estimates on the prevalence of juvenile offenders within the United States. In the 1930s the estimate was 200,000; in 1950, the number was 450,000; by 1966 the estimate was over 1,000,000. During the last two decades, the Federal Office of Youth Development has reported a significant increase in the number of juvenile offenders. In 1984, the number of arrests for adolescents under the age of 18 had exceeded 2,000,000, with the most common offense being larceny/theft. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that the majority of crimes by juveniles were property-related, although there was a trend toward violent crime as the youths became older. More recent statistics reveal that arrest rates for adolescents have declined since 1997 but still remain high (CDC, 2000).
In terms of ethnicity, African-American males are more likely to be arrested than any other group. Various theories have been proposed to explain the differences in delinquency rates for African-Americans and whites. One theory includes targeting of minority populations by police (Males, 1998); another suggests that ethnicity is not an important causal factor (Quay, 1987), but that African-Americans and whites differ on a number of precursors to delinquency. These precursors may include low family income and poor parental child-rearing behavior. It has been argued that because of the high proportion of African-American single-parent households, there is less parental control and supervision.
These statistics may represent only the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of actual reporting. Not all delinquent behavior is detected and the acts that are officially recorded do not represent a random sample. Official statistics provide only a limited index of juvenile delinquency; however, they may be useful in indicating trends for research and/or intervention. Family structure appears to be an important factor, even with imperfect data.
Family Structure and Delinquency Among Adolescents
A family model of emotional development of African-American children has been proposed by Barbarin (1993), which suggests that social incompetence and behavior disorders are the result of the interaction of daily stress and coping. The parent-child relationship is viewed in this model as a precursor of coping skills, and is itself influenced by socioeconomic status and other demographic and personality variables. Family involvement, control, support, and socialization are identified by this model as important dimensions of the emotional development of African-American children.
A large number of studies over a 50-year period have attempted to examine the family structure of violent youth. These studies have traditionally found that the family variables which contribute the most to aggressiveness and delinquency include parental criminality, poor parental supervision, cruel or neglecting attitudes, erratic or harsh discipline, marital conflict, and large family size (Bahr, 1979, 1991; McCord & McCord, 1959; West & Farrington, 1973; Wilson, 1980).
Studies have also examined the role of family interaction patterns and the general emotional environment with respect to delinquency. These studies have tended to conclude that delinquents are more likely to be raised in families which tend to exhibit more conflict and less stable family interaction patterns (Alexander, 1973; Faunce & Riskin, 1970). Lewis, Lovely, Yeager, and della Femina (1989) found that the most violent adolescents were from physically abusive households. In fact, in their study, histories of abuse and/or family violence were found to be the best predictors of adult violent crimes.
The emotional environment of the home is also important in distinguishing delinquents from nondelinquents (Veneziano & Veneziano, 1992). …