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Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency
Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency

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2.5 Activity: Exploring delinquent behaviour

You will now listen to an interview with Professor John Muncie, a criminologist at The Open University, in which he discusses the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development and its attempts to predict which individuals may become offenders later on in life.

Activity 6

Timing: Suggested time allocation: 40 minutes

Click on the audio player beneath each question to hear Professor John Muncie’s response to that question and note his answer in the box provided. To do this, you don’t necessarily have to write in full sentences: bullet points, lists or brief notes are all acceptable as long as they work for you.

1. In your own words, jot down what John Muncie says about the features and aims of the study.

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Discussion

  • This was a longitudinal study which means it was carried out over a long period of time during which the young people being studied were contacted nine times from their childhood into adulthood.
  • The sample, although consisting of 411 children, was mainly male, white and working class.
  • The study aimed to discover the factors to explain why some children became delinquents.

2. Summarise, in your own words, the findings of the study.

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Discussion

The main findings were:

  • A fifth of the sample had been convicted of criminal offences as juveniles.
  • A third had been convicted by the time they were thirty-two.
  • Six per cent of the sample was labelled chronic offenders who shared some common childhood characteristics.

3. Jot down, in your own words, the individual, family and environmental risk factors the study identifies.

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Discussion

  • Individual risk factors were low intelligence, personality and impulsiveness.
  • Family factors were criminal and anti-social parents, poor parenting and a disruptive family life.
  • Environmental factors were associating with similar friends, living in poor areas and attending schools with high delinquency rates.

4. What weaknesses does Professor Muncie highlight with using these risk factors to identify potential young offenders?

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Discussion

  • Professor Muncie argues that out of this list of risk factors it is impossible to know which are the most important and we don’t know how these factors influence each other.
  • Most significantly, although this research shows links between certain risk factors and juvenile delinquency, it doesn’t explain what causes juvenile delinquency.

5. What weaknesses of the Cambridge Study have been identified by further research?

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Discussion

  • A study in the north-east of England based on interviews showed that risk factors couldn’t explain why some children, who had many of these risk factors, did not offend.
  • Another study in Pittsburgh highlighted the economic status of neighbourhoods as a more important risk factor than individual personality or family background.