Juvenile Justice From 1960 To Present.

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Juvenile Justice from 1960 to Present.


During the 1960' s and 1970's attempts to explain and understand social deviance, in particular juvenile delinquency, in terms of distinctive cultural patterns became commonplace. Sociologists in a pseudo scientific manner tried to divide up the population into parent class cultures, various subcultures and counter-cultures and analyse their distinctive norms, values and beliefs. Since the earliest days of gang research, such as the classic study by Thrasher (1927) of 1,313 gangs in Chicago, scholars have noted the disproportionate contribution that gang members make to the level of crime in society. Their involvement in serious and violent delinquency is one of the most robust observations in criminological research . The use of the term 'subculture' in the context of this essay focuses mainly on juvenile delinquent gangs. I shall attempt to argue the relevance/ irrelevance of subcultural theories of crime from inception in the 1950/60's and assess it's development and relevance to date.

Defining and contextualising subcultural theories of crime

The concept of subculture was applied to the study of delinquency in the mid 1950's and was first used by anthropologists. It referred to distinctive sets of values that set the delinquent apart from mainstream or dominant culture. It attempted to bring coherency to the argument that delinquency and gang formation was a solution to the structural and cultural problems that faced marginalised groups. A gang is a form of subculture and does not have a set definition. Broadly speaking the term implies some form of identifiable leadership, membership criteria and organisational structure. Contemporary and classic subcultural studies of white, black, Chinese and Puerto Rican gangs in America paint a picture of neighbourhood groups, organised largely along racial lines, with a strong sense of local territory, mutual obligations and often direct involvement in extortion, trafficking and the drugs trade. In the British version of subcultural theory, criminal activity is not a key concern. Rather it is argued that leisure and delinquency combine to provide the conditions in which aspects of subcultural behaviour can become criminalised. Downes study was influential because it shifted the debate from focusing on crime and delinquency to engaging the discussion in the context of the 'cultural space'.

Many studies attempt to answer the question, "Why do people join or start gangs?" The studies can be divided into four groups . First there are those that argue that people join gangs as a result of a natural act of associating with each other. The impetus to join is the result of his/her desire to defend against conflict and create order out of the condition of social disorganisation. The second explains gang formation in terms of the "the subculture of blocked opportunities"; this may be as a result of persistent unemployment. The strain of these blocked opportunities is compensated for by joining a gang and establishing a sub-culture that can be kept separate from the culture of wider society. Thirdly, some individuals join gangs as part of the developmental process of building a personal identity or as the ...
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