Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas Term Paper

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Juvenile Delincency in Urban Areas

Juvenile delinquency is a contemporary term for an old problem. One of the oldest relevant studies of the phenomenon was 'social disorganization' theory, which was developed by the Chicago school of sociology in the 1920's. This theory posits that there exist areas in a city in which traditional institutions have little or no control. This was studied in Chicago using a system of 'Concentric Zones' which demonstrated that most of the crime in the city occurs within certain areas that are typically associated with poverty. According to studies conducted by Shaw and McKay in the 1940's, "a preponderance of the delinquent boys lived either in areas adjacent to the central business and industrial district or along the two forks of the Chicago River, Back of the Yards, or in South Chicago, with relatively few in other outlying areas." (Jacoby, 13)

Shaw and McKay discovered a strong association between census tracts and crime rates. The dependent variables used in the study were delinquency rates from Chicago as measured by arrests, court appearances, and court adjudications. The independent variables were economic conditions by square mile areas, ethnic heterogeneity, and population turnover. These variables were based on the addresses of delinquents between 10 and 16 years of age who were petitioned to juvenile court.

Delinquency rates were measured over time and correlated to certain geographic areas. Three methods were used by which variations in rates of delinquents corresponded: 1) comparison by zones. 2) Area comparisons and correlations. 3) extent of concentration. Five zones were made in concentric circles from the center of the central business district in two-mile intervals. The study found that these zones were highly correlated with juvenile delinquency, and that these areas remained static over a large period of time.

Four assumptions of social disorganization were made to explain delinquency. First, delinquency was prevalent where institutional or community-based goals had collapsed. This was heavily correlated with another factor, which was the rapid industrialization, urbanization and immigration process that occur primarily in urban settings. Third, competition and dominance had determined the desirability of residential and business locations; 'good' neighborhoods were developed by the wealthy and middle class, who were the group of people to whom institutions were held in high esteem. The fourth assumption was that criminal values dominated the market and traditions replaced conventional ones and that are self-perpetuating (Shoemaker, 1996).

Shaw and McKay made rate, zone, spot, and pin maps that presented discussions of delinquency rates in Chicago over three time periods: 1900-1906, 1917-1923, and 1927-1933. The collection of books they produced illustrated the distribution of delinquency rates in Chicago and that discussed processes that were associated with delinquent values and traditions. Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess had developed the Concentric Zone Model in order to measure urban growth, where Five concentric zones were identified characterizing growth in Chicago, and 20 other American cites in the 1920s. Shaw and McKay believed that eventually triumphing over social disorganization was manifested in the ability of immigrant groups to relocate.

Shaw considered spot maps to be important because they not only showed the areas in which delinquency were concentrated, and the relation of those areas to the city as a whole, but also showed the extent of the actual problem of delinquency with which each district was faced. On the other hand, radial maps were intended to illustrate variations in the delinquency rate between "natural areas" which had resulted from radial city expansion. Juvenile delinquency, adult crime, recidivism, and truancy are all associated by the fact that the ten series of data aare positively correlated, in some instances to the extent of + 0.8 and + 0.9.

Shaw's choice of truancy as one of the variables to be compared with delinquency and adult crime was founded in his belief in that the two were related. A future study revealed that 51% of the truant boys reviewed in the early 20's had re-entered a life of crime by 1928. (Morris, 1966:76)

At the center of the concentric zone model is the central business district. This area is characterized by high-rise office buildings and is bustling during the day, but very quiet at night. The second zone Hurd and Burgess call the 'transitional zone'; it is marked by a high number of immigrants and is characterized by deteriorated housing, factories, and abandoned buildings. Next is the working class zone, where working class families are to be found in single-family tenements. The residential zone is next, with single-family homes, yards and garages. The furthest circle is referred to as the commuter zone. The studies note that the 'transitional zone' is usually that which is plagued with the highest juvenile delinquency rates. Hurd and Burgess note that no given city expands in such perfect circles due to geographical and other factors. Chicago, however, follows this pattern, according to Shaw and McKay.

According to Elaine Forsythe Cook, "Advocates of the sector theory hold that cities move outward along main transportation routes, and thus expansion is not wavelike but in effect a function of radii." (Cook, 1960-Page 143) The problem with documenting this is that it is hard to determine cause and consequence, or how cause and consequence interact. One theory, which is a theory of multiple nuclei, implies that large cities have many growth centers, and that growth depends on the patterns they create. One example is that of a city that is created from other cities merging, such as Jersey City or Minneapolis, MO. Another example is the emerging of two towns as the area between them is built up and settled. Multiple nuclei may develop in other ways.

In many respects, this zones model is dated. The urban center in such a system is one where people do not choose to live, however New York, Chicago and other cities have attracted a vibrant downtown middle class. In many respects, the difference is political; if the government of a city is as competent of that of a suburb, many choose the city in that commutes are shorter and they may have a lifestyle preference for urban living. Cities have begun to resemble a 'doughnut' with respect to social development with a 'old town' or historic district at the center, surrounded by a ring of depravity, and then suburbs and exurbs. In addition, the model is dated in that suburban areas have progressively become more susceptible to juvenile crime. Whereas the cultural lives of such areas were once dominated in the lives of young people by the church, today the media dominates them.

The underlying characteristic similar to all "high rate" areas is physical deterioration. According to Shaw, deterioration is the frame of reference for his interpretation. Yet other writers have linked high rates of teen crime with the concept of "social disorganisation." However, it is still not a foregone conclusion that physical deterioration and "social disorganisation" go together. Some suggest that human ecology is no more than another name for geographical determinism, and Shaw attempts to dispel this notion by insisting that:

It should be clearly understood that this study is not an attempt to show that delinquency is caused by the simple external fact of location. We are pointing out here that delinquency tends to occur in a characteristic type of area. More intensive analysis of these areas is necessary before the factors that characterize delinquency-producing situations can be indicated. (Shaw, pg. 21)

Shaw believes that socially disaffected young people are evenly distributed throughout society, but because variations in methods of controlling children, a variant of maladjustment, which shows itself in a criminal manner is likely to become known as delinquency. He also notes that these rates do not reflect police strength at different comparative levels.

Some of Shaw's critics claim that he was unable to distinguish between the areas of criminal production and areas of crime commission. Critics who claim that his delinquency rates were invalid attack him further. Still others believed that some of his conclusions about the physical environment and the cultures of local communities. Among the most prominent of these early critics was Sophie Robison. Robison argued that the concentric zones were merely coincidental with a type of urban development.

She argued that the rates themselves were based upon court appearances could hardly provide a reliable index of the extent of delinquent behaviour.

She felt that court appearance was too narrow of a metric to judge delinquent behavior in children. She argues that the customs of diverse cultural groups are such that irrespective of the location of the groups in the city the proportions of their populations who come before the courts will inevitably vary. Robison's concept of delinquency is broader than Shaw's, and extends to cover behavior, which is generically described as anti-social. She argues that that the higher the parental income the fewer the child's chances of coming into court. Robison's arguments would appear reasonable in its universality: view of the fact that the efficiency of various cultures in controlling the behavior…

Sources Used in Document:


Carlin Wong. Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay: The Social Disorganization Theory. Center for Spacially Oriented Social Science. 2002.

Terence Morris. The Criminal Area: A Study in Social Ecology Routledge & Paul, 1966

Robert C. Trojanowicz, Merry Morash, and Pamela Schram. Juvenile Delinquency Concepts and Control, 6th Edition. Prentice Hall: 2000.

Walter B. Miller. The Growth of Youth Gang Problems in the United States: 1970-98. U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. April, 2001.

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