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THE CAUSAL FACTORS OF JUVENILE CRIME.
BY CYRIL BURT.
SOURCES OF DATA.
(1) Delinquent Groups.
I PROPOSE to present, chiefly by a series of tables, a preliminary analysis of the causation of juvenile delinquency. The children and young persons, guilty of criminal conduct and examined for this research, fall into three broad groups: first, cases referred to me for investigation by magistrates, organisers of children's care, headteachers, parents, and secretaries of associations dealing with juvenile delinquents; secondly, a somewhat smaller group encountered in an educational survey of a representative borough?; thirdly, a still smaller selection, studied during occasional visits to remand-homes or industrial schools, when recent entrants and representative samples were specially tested and reviewed.
A psychologist is always apt to receive an undue proportion of cases where the issue is not simply the cause of delinquency, but rather the determination of mental subnormality. Accordingly, I have endeavoured
1 This survey had for its primary object an enquiry into the distribution of intelligence, with special reference to the incidence of backwardness and mental deficiency; but a watch was also kept for cases of delinquency and so-called moral defect. The proportion of delin. quents thus discovered among the general school population was, for boys, 0.9 per cent., and, for girls, 0-6 per cent. But these figures comprise for the most part only the graver cases known to head teachers; and, therefore, particularly among the boys, must form a gross under-estimate. To the few thus ascertained must be added the many whose delinquencies are known to none but their parents, and the still greater number, whose delinquencies are never detected until later in life, or, being perhaps transitory, remain for ever unknown except to themselves. For the type of offences here contemplated and during the ages here reviewed, the proportion of occasional delinquents, among the total population for the same years, cannot be less than 5 per cent. for girls, nor less than 10 per cent. for boys and youths. But, by pressing the definitions for such offences as the infringement of police regulations or for such delinquencies as those connected with sex, and by including isolated petty thefts at home, one could expand the percentage up to any magnitude below one hundred.
J. of Psych. (Med. Sect.) II
Caile lui Diol. Lib.
to eliminate from the statistical analysis all children notified solely for psychological diagnosis; and, among the submitted cases, have retained only those sent to me either as a matter of routine or for general advice upon treatment. In the three groups investigated, the proportional incidence of the several causative factors proves to be approximately the same; and I am disposed, therefore, to infer that the whole series forms a fairly typical selection of delinquent children and young persons.
The total number comprises 123 boys and 74 girls, approximately two hundred cases in all. Since I have limited my analysis solely to those instances in which I have procured full evidence for all the conditions reviewed-family history, personal history, physical characteristics, and psychological characteristics—the numbers are inevitably slender. The average age of the individuals dealt with is 12.6 years for the boys; and slightly higher, namely 13.1 years, for the girls. The entire series ranges from 18.0 years, the age at which industrial school cases cease to be under the supervision of the managers, down to 7.0 for the girls, and 5.0 for the boys. Just over half of the cases, however, fall within the years 12– to 15–. Their distribution over the various age-groups is shown in Table I.
The offences committed by these children are of the usual type: stealing, truancy, wandering, damage, common assault, indecent assault, soliciting, or being beyond parental control. Of the nature and number of delinquencies I have given a detailed description elsewhere?
TABLE I. Distribution of Ages.
Age last birthday 5- 6- 7- 8- 9- 10- 11- 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17– Total Percentage of boys 4.1 3.3 4.1 4.9 5.7 5.7 9.0 10.6 12.2 14.6 16:3 6.5 3.3 100
in each age-group Percentage of girls
2:7 6.8 9.5 8.1 5.4 13.5 12:2 10.8 14.9 9.5 6.8 100 in each age-group
General considerations suggest, and my investigations into other forms of mental subnormality strongly confirm, the supreme necessity in all such studies of a parallel inquiry among relatively normal individuals. To state, for example, that 19 per cent. of one's cases come from drunken or vicious homes?, or that 8 per cent. are mentally backward and subnormal?, or that 4 per cent. have no parents at all), means nothing, until one has assessed the frequency of drunken or vicious homes, of backwardness, and of orphanhood among the general law-abiding population. A control-group is essential. To this end I have endeavoured to make identical studies of children of the same age and of the same social class, who may be regarded as morally normal. In the tables below I have added throughout percentages for these parallel cases. In compiling such figures I have made use chiefly of case-histories got during two separate surveys-an investigation into the causes of backwardness, and a later enquiry upon the possibility of vocational guidance. In order that the age-distribution should be precisely the same, it has been further necessary to make a special examination of a few additional individuals, chiefly infants under seven and young persons over school age. In all I have taken 200 non-delinquent boys and 200 non-delinquent girls, carefully selecting them so that the percentages in the several age-groups and the proportions in the several social classes should be identical with those obtaining among the delinquents. The non-delinquents have all been tested, medically inspected, and reported upon by teachers, by parents, and by social investigators, according to the same general scheme5.
1 Psyche, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 342–3, Table I, where the figures given refer to the same groups as are here described. It should be remarked that, in addition to the crimes punishable in an adult by penal servitude or imprisonment, there are certain other offences which only children can commit-notably non-attendance at day schools and being beyond parental control.
To gain trustworthy data upon the temperamental qualities of four hundred children would, it was found, consume an impracticable deal of time. Such observations as were furnished by parents or teachers differed widely in their fulness, in their accuracy, and in the standards upon which
1 W. Healy, The Individual Delinquent, p. 134. Although in what follows I comment from time to time on slight divergences from the views of this writer, it is impossible to mention his model investigation-so unlike the innumerable surveys that preceded it, without a tribute of gratitude and esteem to a work so admirably thorough upon a subject so incredibly complex.
2 Ibid., p. 131.
* A similar procedure has been adopted by me in the study of the causes of backwardness in school children. See Report of an Investigation upon Backward Children in Birming. ham, City of Birmingham Stationery Department, 1921.
6 For a few special medical examinations both of delinquent and non-delinquent cases I have been indebted to Dr Jessie Murray and to my sister Dr Marion Burt. I am also under a special obligation to the physicians and medical registrars of various hospitals, through which several of my cases have passed, for their kindness in granting me detailed notes 'of conditions observed.
I should add that my plan of study and my schedule or ‘psychographic scheme’are, in their main outlines, the same for the delinquent as for the backward and the defective; they were, indeed, based upon those originally elaborated for the latter. Comparability has thus become easier to secure, and, I hope, safer to rely upon.