Skip to main content

Adolescents’ Beliefs About Why Young People Commit Crime

  • Grace Skrzypiec (a1)

The aim of the study was to obtain adolescents’ perspectives about why young people offend. Twenty-four Australian male and female offenders and non-offenders offered insights about what, according to them, motivates young people to become involved in crime. Without the use of sophisticated language, participants offered explanations that were well-aligned with the ‘big three’ theories suggested by Cullen and Agnew (2003) as major criminological theories — namely, control, differential association, and strain theories. Participants also provided explanations that corroborated Carroll, Houghton, Durkin, and Hattie's (2009) reputation enhancing goals theory. Participants’ explanations were consistent with empirically supported criminological theories, suggesting that young people involved in crime, or associated with known offenders, have insights about the causes of crime. An extrapolation of this notion would suggest that they might also have some insight into what measures could be taken to reduce or prevent offending. Notwithstanding further research, it is proposed that young people should be given more voice in criminal justice matters.

Corresponding author
address for correspondence: Grace Skrzypiec, School of Education, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001 SA, Australia. Email:
Hide All
Abrams, L.S. (2006). Listening to juvenile offenders: Can residential treatment prevent recidivism? Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23 (1), 6185.
Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 4787.
Agnew, R. (1995). Testing the leading crime theories: An alternative strategy focusing on motivational processes. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 32 (4), 363398.
Agnew, R. (2003). The interactive effects of social control variables on delinquency. In Britt, C.L. & Gottfredson, M.R. (Eds.), Control theories of crime and delinquency. Advances in criminological theory, Vol. 12 (pp. 5376). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Agnew, R. (2005). Why do criminals offend? A general theory of crime and delinquency. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company.
Akers, R.L. (1985). Deviant behavior: A social learning approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Akers, R.L. (1998). Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.
Akers, R.L. (2003). A social learning theory of crime. In Cullen, F.T. & Agnew, R. (Eds.), Criminological theory. Past to present: Essential readings (2nd ed., pp. 92102). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company.
Akers, R.L., & Sellers, C.S. (2004). Criminological theories: Introduction, evaluation, and application (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company.
Aubrey, C., & Dahl, S. (2006). Children's voices: The views of vulnerable children on their service providers and the relevance of services they receive. British Journal of Social Work, 36, 2139.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2000). Beyond welfare: measuring and monitoring the state of children — New trends and domains. Social Indicators Research, 52 (3), 235257.
Ben-Arieh, A. (2005). Where are the children? Children's role in measuring and monitoring their well-being. Social Indicators Research, 74, 573596.
Bernard, T.J., & Snipes, J.B. (1996). Theoretical integration in criminology. Crime and Justice: An Annual Review of Research, 20, 301348.
Bohm, R.M. (1992). Radical criminology. Criminology, 19, 565589.
Braithwaite, J. (1989). Crime, shame and reintegration. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77101.
Carroll, A., Houghton, S., Durkin, K., & Hattie, J.A. (2009). Adolescent reputations and risk: Developmental trajectories to delinquency. New York: Springer.
Casas, F. (2000). Quality of life and the life experience of children. In Verhellen, E. (Ed.), Fifth international interdisciplinary course on children's rights. Belgium: University of Ghent.
Chesney-Lind, M. (1989). Girl's crime and woman's place: Toward a feminist model of female delinquency. Crime and Delinquency, 35, 529.
Cloward, R.A., & Ohlin, L.E. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity: A theory of delinquent gangs. New York: Free Press.
Cohen, A.K. (1955). Delinquent boys: The culture of the gang. New York: Free Press.
Cullen, F.T., & Agnew, R. (2003). Criminological theory: Past to present, essential readings (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.
Cullen, F.T., Wright, J.P., & Blevins, K.R. (2009). Taking stock: The status of criminological theory. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Edleson, J.L., Nguyen, H.T., & Kimball, E. (2011). Honor our voices: A guide for practice when responding to children exposed to domestic violence. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA).
Elliott, E.S., & Dweck, C.S. (1988). Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 (1), 512.
Ellis, L., & Walsh, A. (1999). Criminology: A global perspective. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Emler, N., & Reicher, S.Adolescence and delinquency. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Farrington, D.P. (2003). Developmental and life-course criminology: Key theoretical and empirical issues — The 2002 Sutherland Award Address. Criminology, 41 (2), 221255.
Farrington, D.P., & Welsh, B.C. (2007). Saving children from a life of crime. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fuller, G. (2013). Australian crime: Facts and figures 2012. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Gaylord, M.S., & Galliher, J.F. (1988). The criminology of Edward Sutherland. New Brunswick: Transaction.
Gottfredson, M.R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Gottfredson, M.R., & Hirschi, T. (2003). Self control and opportunity. In Britt, C.L. & Gottfredson, M.R. (Eds.), Control theories of crime and delinquency (pp. 519). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Hay, C. (2001). An exploratory test of Braithwaite's reintegrative shaming theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38, 132153.
Heimer, K., & De Coster, S. (1999). The gendering of violent delinquency. Criminology, 37, 277318.
Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hirschi, T., & Gottfredson, M.R. (1994). The generality of deviance. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Jensen, G.F. (1995). Salvaging structure through strain: A theoretical and empirical critique. In Adler, F. & Laufer, W.S. (Eds.), Advances in criminological theory, volume 6: The legacy of anomie (pp. 139158). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Kornhauser, R. (1978). Social sources of delinquency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Leavitt, G. (1999). Criminological theory as an art form: Implications for criminal justice policy. Crime and Delinquency, 45 (3), 389399.
Mayall, B. (2002). Towards a sociology of childhood: Thinking from children's lives. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Mazerolle, P., & Maahs, J. (2000). General strain and delinquency: An alternative examination of conditioning influences. Justice Quarterly, 17, 753778.
Melton, G., & Limber, S. (1992). What children's rights mean to children: Children's own views. In Freeman, M. & Veerman, P. (Eds.), The ideologies of children's rights (pp. 167187). Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff.
Merton, R.K. (1938). Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review, 3, 672682.
Messing, J.T. (2005). From the child's perspective: A qualitative analysis of kinship care placements. Berkeley, CA: National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center, University of California.
Milovanovic, D. (1992). Review essay: Contemporary directions in critical criminology. Humanity and Society, 6, 303313.
Paternoster, R., & Mazerolle, P. (1994). General Strain Theory and delinquency: A replication and extension. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31, 235263.
Pratt, T.C., & Cullen, F.T. (2000). The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime: A meta-analysis. Criminology, 38, 931964.
Reiss, D., Neiderhiser, N., Hetheringtom, E. M., & Plomin, R. (2000). The relationship code: Deciphering genetic and social influences on adolescent development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ridge, T. (2002). Childhood poverty and social exclusion: From a child's perspective. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.
Sampson, R.J., & Laub, J.H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Santos Pais, M. (1999). A Human Rights Conceptual Framework for UNICEF. Florence, Italy: UNICEF, International Child Development Centre.
Shaw, C.R., & McKay, H.D. (1942). Juvenile delinquency and urban areas: A study of rates of delinquents in relation to differential characteristics of local communities in American cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Skrzypiec, G.K., & Wundersitz, J. (2005). Young people born 1984. Extent of involvement with the juvenile justice system. Adelaide, Australia: Attorney-General's Department, South Australia.
Sommer, D., Pramling Samuelsson, I., & Hundeide, K. (2010). Child perspectives and children's perspectives in theory and practice: International perspectives on early childhood education and development, Vol. 2. Dordrecht: Springer.
Tibbetts, S.G., & Hemmens, C.T. (2010). Criminological theory: A text/reader. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Title, C.R. (1995). Control balance: Toward a general theory of deviance. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Vold, G.B., Bernard, T.J., & Snipes, J.B. (2002). Theoretical criminology (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Weatherburn, D. (2001). What causes crime? Crime and Justice Bulletin, Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice Series, no. 54. Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools
  • ISSN: 2055-6365
  • EISSN: 2055-6373
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-psychologists-and-counsellors-in-schools
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed