Friday, October 26, 2012

Juvenile Crime: An Overview of Environmental Perspectives

Several fundamentals can cause juveniles to commit crime, one of those fundamentals is acknowledged as the environmental perspective.  The environmental perspective is closely tied to the social learning theory of deviance. Juveniles are not only exposed to social factors, which enhances criminal activity but influences of environmental factors that constitutes to criminal activity.  Our perspective of “crime” is essentially different from an environmental perspective, which not only focuses on the elements of the crime, such as biological factors, social forces and/or development experiences that create an offender (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). These factors are analyzed through the object of interest, which is crime. “ The offender is just one element of a criminal event, and how offenders come to be the way they are is of little immediate relevance” (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). We turn the focus from solely rehabilitating the offender to the dynamics of crime -- where did it happen, when did it happen, who was involved, why did they do it, and how did they go about it? The aim of the environmental perspective is to prevent crime, not solely focusing on a cure to restore offenders (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). Understanding why juveniles commit crimes outside the scope of their institution can be explained through the three premises of the environmental perspective.
Juveniles are highly influenced by their immediate environment. The environmental perspective depends upon the principle that all behavior results from a person-situation interaction (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). The environment does not only play an initiating role to crime but also in shaping it. Criminogenic individuals that suggest their environment as a reason to commit the crime influence crime activity.  The environment is not only used as a setting to commit the crime or a destination but a vital tool to influence deviant behavior. Most juveniles spend more time socially interacting with members of their society in a form to impose improper behavior; the environment becomes one of the countless tools in initiating corruption.  Some of the on going issues in which the environment presents itself as a negative factor in the lifestyle of a juvenile is through, drug use, mental health problems and/or educational, employment or family problems (Richards, 2011).  
A juveniles’ inability to remove themselves from their surrounding challenges is difficult for a juvenile, and committing the crime is easier then dealing with their problems. Perhaps this is a mechanism that is commonly used for juveniles that live in dysfunctional homes or environments. The effort to get themselves out of the “situation” becomes challenging and greater than the effort to not get caught by law enforcement. “Youth violence remains a topic of social concern. Communities characterized by high rates of family disruption, unemployment, concentrated poverty, and inaccessibility to economic opportunities appear to be particularly vulnerable to youth violence” (MacDonald , Bluthenthal & Golinelli , 2009). In certain circumstances, youth court focuses on restoring the juvenile by negotiating prevention programs in which the juvenile engages in educational or family restoration instead of punishment. The environment becomes a person-situation interaction in which behavior is influenced by the offender to commit the criminal act because of their daily challenges that become inevitable to prohibit.
Another observation of the environmental perspective is the distribution of crime in time and space. Which is considered to be a non-random factor. Behavior is dependent upon situational and patterned aspects to the location of criminogenic environments (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). When it comes to juvenile crime their time and space is not focused solely upon risk, but upon crime opportunity and other environmental features that facilitate criminal activity (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). The denotation of crime changes from the act of committing the crime to illegitimate opportunities (Cloward & Ohlin, 2004).  Theses opportunities become a learning factor for the juvenile and a form of systematic procedures that contribute to criminal activity.  Opportunity becomes the motive to commit the crime rather than the purpose. Richard A. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin asserted the theories of learning and performance structures of juvenile delinquency proclaiming; “Our use of the term “opportunities,” legitimate or illegitimate, implies access to both learning and performance structures. That is, the individual must have access to appropriate environments for the acquisition of the values and skills associated with the performance of a particular role, and he must be supported in the performance of the role once he has learned it ” (Cloward & Ohlin, 2004).
The environmental perspective declares that the purpose of crime analysis is to identify and describe crime patterns (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). Patterns of crime are highly recognized throughout specific regions; essentially they are identified through the motion of learning and performing factors. The environment not only becomes an instrument to learn and perform deviant behavior, but also promotes patterns of commonly committed crimes in specific regions that can be used to prevent future crimes. A study that consisted a system of mapping juvenile crime in a neighborhood in Chicago established theories that supported specific areas of youth violence; “Early research by Shaw and McKay (1942) on juvenile delinquency in Chicago neighborhoods found stable patterns of localized juvenile offending over time. This research also found a consistent correlation with aggregate community measures of poverty, residential instability, and the heterogeneous ethnic composition of neighborhoods” (MacDonald , Bluthenthal & Golinelli , 2009). The study of Shaw and McKay expanded the factors of juvenile crime patterns in specific environmental areas. Theses areas were identified to be high in poverty and high in dysfunctional environments.
“Changing the criminogenic aspects of the targeted environment can reduce the incidence within urban communities and the effects on criminal activity and other forms of social disorder” (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). Comprehending the role of the environmental perspective in which factors such as patterned crimes are identified, the distribution of crime in time and space, and the influence of immediate environmental aspects are categorized to constitute deviant behavior in juveniles. Solutions to prevent crime from environmental influences must be induced by crime prevention practitioners and interested groups to concentrate resources on particular crime problems in particular locations (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2011). Prevention to the crime will assist criminals to withdrawal from criminal activity and perhaps recognize their deviant acts. When the opportunity to commit the crime is removed, learning and performing becomes a disadvantage to the criminal role. It no longer becomes a pattern nor an opportunity of time and space. Although the focus of juvenile delinquency is to reform and rehabilitate the offender the focus of the environmental perspective is to prevent crime. This concept was adapted and accepted by the environmental theorists because recognizing the location of the crime enables the enforcement of awareness in that specific location, essentially preventing corruption.
Once the opportunity to commit the crime is removed social order becomes relevant and the social learning theory is able to act in accordance with the offender to rehabilitate and restore skills that will be useful to succeed in society. In general, the theory of “learning” is either influenced through environmental aspects or social influences, which becomes the tool in assisting criminal activity. The behavior is reinforced through deviant performances, which is established through a system of patterns and social interactions. Juvenile deviance is affected through several exterior sources and social disorders; the environmental perspective is classified as one exterior source that promotes deviance in society.   


Cloward , R. A., & Ohlin , L. E. (2004). Delinquency and
            opportunity . (3rd ed., p. 285). Long Grove, Illinois:
            Waveland Press, Inc.

MacDonald , J., Bluthenthal , R., & Golinelli , D. (2009). Neighborhood effects on crime
            and youth violence . Santa Monica, California : RAND Coporation. Retrieved

Richards, K. (2011). What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders?.
            Australian Institute of Criminology , Retrieved from

Wortley, R., & Mazerolle, L. (2011). Environmental criminology and crime analysis.
            (p. 2). New York, New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group Retrieved
            =PP5&dq=juvenile crime and environment

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