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Effect of Social Control on Delinquent Behavior - A Longitudinal Test

NCJ Number
Sociological Focus Volume: 12 Issue: 1 Dated: (January 1979) Pages: 53-70
A Horwitz; M Wasserman
Date Published
18 pages
The labeling theory, the deterrence approach, and the motivational approach were tested with regard to their effectiveness in predicting juvenile delinquents' behavior over a 2-year period.
One of the central propositions of the labeling theory is that an increase in the severity of societal reaction will lead to an increase in the rate of deviant behavior. This proposition contrasts both with the deterrence approach, which predicts that a stronger societal reaction will reduce the rate of deviant behavior, and with the motivational approach, which predicts that official intervention will have little or no effect on criminal behavior. A model that incorporates these three approaches was tested with a sample of 480 14- and 15-year-old juveniles who were arrested in 1973 and followed for a 2-year period. Complete information was gathered regarding the criminal offense, arrest, and dispositional history of these youngsters, with followup 2 years later; all data were subjected to path analysis. The results of the analysis show that indicators of criminal motivation best predicted the rate of subsequent arrests in this sample. Except for first offenders, the severity of societal reaction had little impact on the number of subsequent arrests. For first offenders, an increase in the amount of social control resulted in an increase in the number of subsequent arrests, confirming one aspect of the labeling approach. However, relationships among motivation, social control, and subsequent criminal arrests can only be suggestive because only official data were used and no control group was studied. More adequate methodological techniques must be developed to study the relationship between social control and deviant behavior, and more adequate theoretical explanations must be constructed regarding official processing and criminal motivation. Footnotes and about 40 references are furnished. (Author abstract modified)


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