About the Book

An Overview of This Book

The media are regularly filled with reports about juvenile crime. Not long ago, a series of media reports focused on youth violence in Chicago, following the tragic death of a 16-year-old honor student. Derrion Albert was walking home from school when he stumbled unknowingly into a large brawl between two rival groups of young people. According to authorities, Albert was beaten to death, having been punched in the face, slammed in the head with a large wooden plank, and kicked and stomped on. Albert was not the only student to have been killed since the beginning of the school year, but this time a passer-by had captured the beating on cell phone video, which was relayed around the world by news networks (New York Times, 2009). This case and other incidents have led people throughout the country to ask a number of fundamental questions about juvenile delinquency: How common is juvenile delinquency? Is it increasing? Who is most likely to commit delinquent acts? What are the causes of juvenile delinquency? What can be done to control or prevent delinquency? These are the questions addressed in this book.

The book has four sections. The four chapters in the first section focus on the Nature and Extent of Delinquency. These chapters deal with the “basic facts” about delinquency, such as: What is delinquency? How much delinquency is there? Is delinquency increasing? And who is most likely to commit delinquent acts?

The eight chapters in the second section focus on the major theories or explanations of the Causes of Delinquency. These chapters describe the four leading theories, or explanations, of delinquency. These theories are used to explain why some juveniles are more likely than others to engage in delinquency; why some offenders engage in crime at high rates over much of their lives while others limit their offending to the adolescent years; why delinquency is more likely in some situations than others; and why some groups have higher rates of delinquency than other groups.

The six chapters in the third section focus on the research dealing with the Causes of Delinquency. Much of this research was designed to test the theories described in the second section. This research examines the extent to which delinquency is caused by individual traits (e.g., low intelligence, low self-control), family factors (e.g., broken homes, poor supervision), school factors, delinquent peers and gang membership, and a range of other factors, such as the mass media, religion, drugs, and guns. The concluding chapter in this section draws on this research and the leading delinquency theories to present an integrated or general theory of delinquency. This theory is used to explain many of the basic facts about delinquency presented in the first section, such as the fact that some juveniles are more delinquent than others and that males are more delinquent than females.

The seven chapters in the final section focus on the Control and Prevention of Delinquency. These chapters describe what the police, juvenile courts, and juvenile correctional agencies do to control delinquency. In particular, they describe how these agencies operate, how effective they are, what they might do to be more effective, and the extent to which they discriminate against certain groups in their efforts to control delinquency. These chapters then describe four general strategies for controlling delinquency that involve all of these agencies as well as other groups: the “get-tough” strategies of deterrence and incapacitation, and the strategies of rehabilitation and prevention. These strategies address many of the causes of delinquency described in the second and third sections.

We should note that this book does more than simply describe the major research on juvenile delinquency. It also describes how this research was carried out. That is, it describes how criminologists do such things as estimate the extent of delinquency, determine whether some factor causes delinquency, and determine whether some program or policy is effective at reducing delinquency. This information will not only increase your understanding of the delinquency research but also better enable you to evaluate the statements you hear about delinquency (and other topics) from friends, family, the media, politicians, and others. Furthermore, this book encourages you to apply the delinquency research. It encourages you, for example, to use the leading theories of delinquency to explain the basic facts about delinquency and to evaluate programs for reducing delinquency. It also encourages you to apply the delinquency research to your own lives and to issues in the larger community.

We hope you find this book useful, and we are most interested in hearing any comments you might have about it—including suggestions for improving the next edition. You can e-mail the first author at or write to him at the Department of Sociology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.

New to This Edition

  • “Special Topics” boxes which discuss and analyze current events, controversies, and case studies related to juvenile delinquency. They are designed to stimulate student interest. Each box concludes with discussion questions designed for this purpose.

  • Expanded coverage of trends in youth crime, school violence, punishment and deterrence, zero-tolerance policies in U.S. schools, the role of personal agency, adolescent drug use, rehabilitation and desistance from delinquency, and the impact of media violence.

  • Each chapter has been updated to fully reflect the latest research on juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice, including up-to-date statistical information.

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