Why do some children become criminals in later life?

Innocence used to be related to childhood; according to home office statistics in 1996 the UK witnessed 177,000 of youths aged 10-17 cautioned or convicted, which was a staggering 25% of the total amount for the UK. Juvenile delinquency is a worldwide complex issue where delinquency is the deviation of social morals and values in that particular society and the violation of criminal or 'youthful' codes. There are no definite answers to the causes and development of delinquency but there are numerous explanations that attempt to account for this.

In this essay I intend to focus on three theories: Psychoanalytical, social-cognitive and behavioural, and finally suggest ways in which it could be prevented in the future. One of the main explanations is the behaviourist theory, Ivan Pavlov (1890) is renown for the learning theory, which adopts the extreme 'nurture' approach to explanations and denies the probability of any genetically characterised contributions, which forms the basis of this theory.

Other psychologists have since developed the theory – Sutherland (1924) proposed the Differential Association Theory where delinquency can be explained through learning behaviour from other people, this supports current ongoing research into family and peer groups and child upbringing where McCord (1979) suggests that a child's upbringing can predict criminal behaviour. He emphasized that learning doesn't have to be through association with criminals but just simple every-day behaviour that could be seen to favour criminality.

For example a juvenile could witness a parent not confessing to being given too much change in a shop and interpret it as having desirable outcomes and being acceptable. This does explain how juveniles could develop to criminality as they have learned the behaviour from other people and expect it to be right. Extending this Skinner (1933) highlighted the Operant Learning Theory, where behaviourism is related to the environmental consequences it produces as Skinner said, "behaviour operates on the environment" [Skinner]. This explains development through what he called positive and negative enforcement.

If there are desirable consequences then the frequency will increase and thereby be reinforced. For example theft or shop-lifting, the consequence is gaining the objects and is seen as a desirable or positive outcome and would be repeated because of this, similarly in the context of this example they can also be negatively reinforced as they are able to avoid social problems such as financial hardship, and also would be repeated because of this, which can explain why juveniles do develop into criminals in later life as the criminal activity has been reinforced.

Supporting this Jeffrey (1965) suggested that operant learning could be associated with a 3 term Contingency – where there is a preceding event, a response referring to the juveniles actions and the consequences of the response, according to this and Skinner juveniles who repeatedly get desirable responses are more likely to re-offend and progress to criminal activity.

When considering recommendations I believe that the future police and penal systems need to use more effective time management between caution and conviction as this can be lengthy, which gives the juvenile opportunities to re-offend, supporting this Skinner found that the time difference between response and reinforcement is immediate, which suggests that these problems should be dealt with quickly before further enforcement and shaping.