The chosen theories for evaluation within this assignment are the Social Disorganization and Biosocial Theories of Criminology as they relate to juvenile delinquency. The Social Disorganization Theory is based upon the premise that a person’s social position and the conditions within which they reside have an influence on their eventual behaviors. The initial theory was introduced by social theorists William Thomas and Florian Znaniecki in the late 1910’s. It was their understanding that peoples attitudes and behaviors are constructed by the interactions they face between themselves, the people around them and the environment within which they reside.
The Social Disorganization Theory asserts that a person’s perspective in life is the result of the process of acculturation – the experiences which that individual experiences throughout their lifetime within varying situations begins to mold their understanding and their thoughts of the world in which they live.
When a city is formed and develops people inevitably fall into particular groups or divisions of that society and as they begin to interact within that circle they begin to develop particular views of the world that they live in.
As the people within those cultural subdivisions begin to grow accustomed to their position gradually the group as a whole will begin to delineate into differing neighborhoods. The center of the populace generally stays put while the more affluent of the community begin to migrate outward. The organizational structure of the society is broken down.
The focus of the Social Disorganization Theory is to ascertain an explanation for why this disorganization leads to increases in crime. How the influences within these areas could lead a person to a life of delinquency or criminal behaviors. I would say that the answer is quite obvious. The basis of a person’s social organization is the influence of the people around them and the effect that their environment has on their life. It’s about the individual’s view of how the people around them interact with each other and the space where they live. When it comes to social organization and position a person’s view of their world greatly effects how they treat it – themselves, the people around them, and the environment itself.
Sutherland’s observation was that the Social Disorganization Theory explained the increases in crime because whereas society was previously “steady, uniform, harmonious and consistent” modern culture has given way to inconsistency, conflict and un-organization (Sutherland 1934: 64). For me the Social Disorganization Theory is fairly clear – people react to their environment as a response to their understanding of the way that environment works. If you see people disrespecting each other, defacing community property, and abusing each other the likelihood of you performing the same acts is drastically increased because you are being trained to behave in that manner. The disorganization that these youth are witnessing is creating a type of cultural tradition that incites and supports anti-social, often illegal behaviors. Thus the only way to treat and prevent the presence of delinquent behaviors as it relates to the Social Disorganization Theory would be to counteract those views.
The only way to affect a young person engaging in delinquent acts as based on the Social Disorganization Theory and “cure” them would be to set them apart from their environment and expose them to alternate, more beneficial behaviors. These juveniles do not respect their communities because they do not witness anyone around them respecting the community. They see people fighting, bickering, tagging graffiti or breaking out the windows of unoccupied buildings; this is how their criminal behaviors begin. The basis of culture is acceptance and it is far easier to be accepted by the people in your community, or anywhere, if you emulate their actions.
Social disorganization is a reference to the failure of social institutions or social organizations like schools, family interactions and group networking (Thabit, para. 1). These systems are disorganized because there is no balance present. If a juvenile lives in a fairly poor and crime infested area they have a better chance at surviving without ever engaging in delinquent behaviors if they have some type of force in place to counteract what they see daily – a mentor who lives in the community and is respected in the community for their beneficial actions. Someone who is leading the community in the right direction and trying to effect change in their world. A teacher who cares about them and encourages them to care about themselves; great parents who teach them how important it is to respect yourself understanding that if they respect themselves they will be more likely to respect others. No one who respects themselves is going to go out and tag a building with graffiti because they will understand that such behaviors are beneath them – disrespectful to them, their neighbors, and their community. People who have beauty in their lives learn how to nurture their environment, seeking to find and create more beautiful things.
Social disorganization theories are about places (Thabit, para. 2) and how they affect people, thereby causing the lines along which the environment is affected by the person. We have all heard of someone being a “product of their environment”, this is the premise upon which the Social Disorganization Theory is founded. If you live in an area that breeds contempt for the world around you, you will begin to feel contempt for that environment. Criminally delinquent behaviors are caused, in effect by the environment in which they take place or where the behaviors become embedded in the juvenile psyche. If a child has no stability and structure in their world they will have no respect for that world. You have to be taught respect, pride and the importance of those elements, that’s not just something you can be born with and hold on to, it must be instilled in you.
A child having difficulties interacting with their environment based on the founding or premise of the Theory of Social Disorganization would greatly benefit from programs like the Boys & Girls Club of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, or a Neighborhood Watch. The Boys & Girls Club of America will show these youth that there are other people who are going through exactly what they’re going through and making it through just fine. Some of them may have engaged in delinquent behaviors but they either have found or are finding their way back from their mistakes and will likely have much to say to prevent seeing such things happen to others. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a great program because it exposes youth to an alternative process of interaction with ones environment, showing them that there are people present in their same neighborhood that are making a difference in this world respecting it and the people within it. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America could show them how to respect themselves and those around them. Now the Neighborhood Watch idea I can admit, is uncommon, but nonetheless a terrific idea, it will show these juveniles that there are reasons to take pride in your community because it is your community and there is no one who knows how to love, care for, and police that community better than the people who live there.
The Biosocial Theory as it relates to biological and social influences on a person’s behavior is based on the premise that criminal or delinquent behaviors can be attributed to some combination of a biological imbalance and social functioning disorder, believing that these things determine a person’s personality traits and dictates their response to environmental stimuli. Society has an immense influence on people’s behaviors because deep within every individual is the biologically induced need to be loved and accepted by the people around them. We spend our entire lives seeking the approval of someone on some varying level and the reality of the matter is that this need to be loved and accepted largely dictates our actions.
Mark Warr argues that delinquent peers cause delinquency (Warr, pp. 120) but it must be taken a step further in order to evaluate what made the originally delinquent peer engage in delinquent acts in the first place. We must evaluate the influence that society has on our young people without forgetting about the chemical reaction that they encounter because biology tells them that it is okay to alter their behaviors until they are at a suitable level to gain the favor of those around them, tapping into their biological need to be accepted.
I would believe that a great deal of delinquent teenagers perform acts that they know are immoral, illegal, and just plain wrong, but they perform those acts because there is a chemical imbalance within them that is telling them that they have no other choice. ‘If you want this person to like you, you must do this’, if you don’t want to them to leave you, you must do that’, the elements go hand-in-hand. Biological imbalances actualize socially delinquent behaviors in the same way that socially delinquent behaviors rationalize biological imbalances. One can very seldom, if at all, be present without the other. There is something within the biology of all primates that leads them to seek status within groups (Walsh, sect. 4). It does not matter what type of group it is that surrounds them they are going to strive for the attention and acceptance of all within that circle otherwise they will leave themselves vulnerable to issues with rejection or abandonment.
There has been biosocial research performed that introduces the effect of “biological harms” like exposure to toxic substances or head injuries, which suggest that these elements may contribute to a susceptibility to the development of “criminal traits conducive to crime” (Rowe, pp.64), but such findings add nothing to the impending influence on society other than the fact that an individual having suffered toxic exposure may be the greater influence and thus promote the delinquent behaviors of others based on their interactions with peer individuals seeking their approval.
The underlying basis of the Biosocial Theory relates to how biology effects the way in which these kids are socialized so the only response to or treatment of these youths behaviors would be peer counseling programs like Peer Ears, a fairly little known high school program where students are trained to listen, support and counsel fellow students. I would also recommend, again, programs like the Boys & Girls Club of America, or programs like the previously rife “Scared Straight”.
No matter how bad a child’s behavior becomes it is always beneficial for them to speak to someone who is in or who has been in their position but it doesn’t work as well for parents or adults as it does for people their own age. They need to speak with someone who lives the same judgments, harsh looks and experiences that they do, who are dealing with those things better than they are. Programs like “Scared Straight” show students the worst of the worst and what happens when you allow yourself to be influenced and led down the wrong path. I volunteered with a program that had youth spend a night in jail, in a cell, all alone. They had to eat with the inmates, and interact with the inmates for one full eighteen-hour period to see what life was like behind bars. They were never put in any danger but they came out of that program understanding what it meant to be incarcerated and have your freedom snatched away because of a bad decision.
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