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 Home » Lifestyle » Lifestyle» Childhood Criminal Law Essay

Childhood Criminal Law Essay


It is an eternal question: are criminals born or made? Foregoing all academic research and analysis, it is submitted the answer is both. A paedophile or rapist may cite childhood sexual abuse in an attempt to explain or at least contextualise his or her own behaviour, whereas a thief may point to unavoidable contemporary socio-environmental circumstances in an attempt to justify his actions. The pertinent issue is that of degree. Childhood offers a context and template for the development of children. All those reading will be able to cite numerous early experiences of life that, for one reason or another, we call formative. We all know it. Certain unique childhood experiences and episodes have served to shape in small ways and profound, all our lives.

At first blush therefore, and reserving consideration to no more than a little personal introspection, it seems inevitable that childhood experiences have the ability to influence adult criminality. Given the unarguably profound effect that childhood experiences exercise in the formation of an adult's general attitudes to life it seems manifest that such influence is likely to material and pervasive.

Juvenile Criminality

It can be contested that juvenile crime is motivated by factors such as material gain, peer prestige, self-esteem, and excitement. These factors all have fundamental social dimensions and are brokered by compelling social variables. In theory, it is almost always feasible for parents living in deprived areas and areas of high background criminality, to protect their children from the surrounding culture. However, in practice it is extremely difficult for them to do so. Most children that grow up in a difficult area will be subjected to and possibly influenced by the socio-economic context of the wider community and in particular the prevailing local youth culture.

In many deprived communities, the dominant youth culture maintains a perception that drug abuse offers a thrilling an appealing lifestyle, presenting the opportunity to escape temporarily from an otherwise depressing and gloomy environment. Moreover there is money to be made from drugs. In a child's sponge-like and malleable mind the notion that the easy, or ostensibly easy material rewards that go hand in hand with the trade in drugs - especially when all around poverty is the benchmark - may serve to help form strong perceptions and a raft of negative norms from an early age. Membership of and acceptance within a tight knit self-perpetuating and affirming Anti-community is another cogent and circular factor.

It is undeniable that poverty and other deleterious conditions of deprivation may put families and family structures under substantial stress which can impair parental ability and capacity to maintain the type of nurturing environment that encourages socially positive behaviour and the formation of decent moral perspectives and frameworks. That said however, even advantaged children who have been effectively and laudably socialised within the family setting are susceptible to being influenced and persuaded by peer-groups and the pervasive subculture in which they are immersed. In particular this may cause a problem if the subculture in question involves the abuse of drugs from the harder end of the spectrum.

It is a trite observation that opiate drugs prove themselves highly alluring to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Arguably this is due to the experience of conditions of deprivation and of the expectation of inferior and negative social roles. This tends to produce dissatisfaction, a poor self-image, and in serious cases anger and psychologically it undoubtedly prepares the way for both criminal activity and drug addiction. Again of course, it is an obvious point that drug use, once a pattern or addictive habit is established, cultivates its own demanding and often criminal influences, if not behavioural imperatives, on the addicted.

Also of prime importance are individual and family factors. These might include: a predisposition towards aggression and confrontation; an impulsive or compulsive temperament; a tendency to be easily led; low intelligence; inappropriate parental discipline methods; limited parental contact and socialisation; the indoctrination of anti-community attitudes and actions by criminal parents or siblings. Such factors can greatly increase the tendency to display what may initially be trivial but often persistent delinquency which can mature, especially when added to the frothy mix of testosterone so abundant in adolescence, to become serious criminal behaviour in adulthood. Again we can isolate the conclusion that drug addictions at all levels of social class but in particular in the lower castes, manifestly entail a significant influence in provoking serious and sustained criminal activity entirely independently of other individual and interpersonal risk factors for criminality.

Children that grow up in what can be described as marginal or marginalised social contexts and communities may see themselves as unfairly excluded from life. This may be the seed of childhood criminal activity and in this sense crime is often likely to be instigated by a clear rejection of the normative moral codes of law abiding society by the child's immediate peer group. Such received values may be replaced by a different code that fosters certain types of criminal thought, preparatory behaviour and activity. It is submitted that criminal activity is far less likely to be engendered by some structural failure of socialisation or in a 'criminal personality' - although both of these factors may occasionally arise.

Case Study: Ireland

In simple terms, a disadvantaged background or deprived childhood may operate in multifarious and highly complex ways to inculcate juvenile criminality or criminal tendencies which may germinate into serious criminal behaviour in later life. In Ireland, for example, over the last thirty years, social deprivation in a marginalised, splintered and disadvantaged community has been identified as the seed corn for crops of adult criminals. Given its history, Ireland is an excellent social example to draw upon due to the severe difficulties faced by the last few generations by both the poorest and better off sectors of the community. The evidence indicates that criminality has been neatly concentrated in local areas of high social deprivation. Although now a thriving and successful society is emerging, in the past Ireland has suffered relatively high levels of childhood poverty and religious and social factors did conspire to put a statistically high proportion of children into poorer situations. Ireland has suffered extreme polarisation, certainly relative to the average Western society, in regards to wealth distribution. Studies have indicated that in the developed world of the latter half of the twentieth century, only in the United States was there a greater divide between the richest and poorest members of society. This in turn fed into extremes of criminal behaviour in both national communities. It is interesting to note that has shown that the fiscal priorities of the Irish Government, up to and including 1997, did not properly reflect or address social inequity. This can only have exacerbated criminal activity among adults as disadvantaged children reached their majority with a skewed attitude and sense of morality.

In more recent times the agenda of the Irish state has been to prioritise issues connected with social welfare and in particular, both directly and indirectly, child welfare. It is too early to ascertain whether these changes will lead to a reduction in the frequency or gravity of adult criminality, but already reductions in juvenile delinquency have been identified. Inevitably, it is submitted, reductions in childhood criminality must derive a reduction in the adult crime.

Maturing out of Crime

It is well-established in criminological studies that the majority of juvenile offenders eventually grow out of deviant and criminal behaviour. The exact process by which this occurs is difficult to isolate but the results are observable throughout society.

'The good news is that most juvenile delinquents are leading quite successful lives by the age of 32.'

Albeit generally acknowledged, desistance from crime is not readily understood. For most typical individuals, participation in trivial criminality commences with the onset of adolescence at around age eleven, reaches a peak in late adolescence aged around sixteen, and has concluded before the person attains 35 years of age. This behavioural curve is clearly apparent in numerous cross-confirming studies employing an eclectic range of methodologies - indeed, it has been suggested that the situation has been the same for centuries. It is perhaps merely a so-called law of nature or rite of passage - a human experience as normal and natural as a toddler's temper tantrums or a teenage girl's… temper tantrums.

It can therefore be observed that an individual's experiences in childhood might well influence a future criminal career. However, juvenile criminal activity per se is no guarantee that an adult will adopt serious or sustained criminality in later life. Most people seem to experience what has been described as spontaneous remission as they mature.
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