This work is divided into four sections, designed to cover the main areas. The subject matter does not belong within a single field of inquiry and will try to answer a question: does a not completing high school increase criminal arrest? This work attempts so far as possible, therefore, to present a comprehensive view. The paper deals with the extent of criminal arrests, points to some of the central problems in the measurement of its frequency, and presents the most recently available official data on law violation among children and adolescents. The hypothesis of the work proposes that there is a lack of education that in interaction with intelligence and achievement put an individual at significant risk for crime arrest. Evaluation of the hypothesis was conducted with a review of empirical studies. The causation of criminal arrests and the factors associated with its occurrence will be considered. Here the approach is quantitative. The work also presents the limitations of research in this field of behavior and a sociopsychological theory of causation.
Lack of Education and Increase in Criminal Arrests
The evidence from much of the more careful contemporary research indicates that the most fruitful approaches to understanding the criminal arrests must come through a recognition of cause as a complicated and total process in which numerous, often subtle and imponderable variables play a part, and that the role of these variables will differ from case to case both as to the component elements themselves and how they interact. Such a conclusion, obvious though it is, implies nevertheless that the traditional research in criminogenesis has in fact been misleading, since to such a great extent it has been comprised of mere loose statistical description of samples of offenders as to the frequency with which certain psychological and social factors were observed in the group. Studies of “causal factors” have been so numerous, their findings so diverse, their conclusions for the most part so dubious, that it would represent a tedious futility to recount even the major studies. Here, lack of education that frequently appear to play an important role in criminal arrests among adolescents not completing high school will be considered below. This factor is illustrated by Jeanette Covington in The Social Construction of the Minority Drug Problem, Cynthia J. Benjamin in Mean Streets: Youth Crime and Homelessness, Dawn Kemp in Troubled Children Grown-up: Antisocial Behavior in Young Adult Criminals, and Daniel Hoffman in Kids Out of Place. Despite minor differences, many of the theories of these articles fit into an anomie model, which basically took the view that not completing high school caused a particular type of behavior in low-income and working-class communities. In other words, these subcultures in their communities were seen as an adaptation to limited opportunities to achieve conventional goals. Hence, with these theories, anomie came to be equated with a kind of collective, neighborhood-based despair. Further, because limited access to legitimate opportunities caused a host of social problems, including crime and drug abuse, crime arrests were seen to be interrelated in this model; after all, they had the same causes. Thus, evidence that a not completing high school had high rates of drug arrests and crime also became evidence of underlying social breakdown.
Hagan and McCarthy (1998) postulate that in combination with low educational attainment and conflict with teachers, many of these teens feel they will find a better life on the street. By combining the samples of street and in-school youth, Hagan and McCarthy increase the external validity of their study. They find that the occurrence of street males involved in serious theft is considerably higher than in-school males, although all males who did less homework and who experienced conflict with teachers had an increased probability of being involved in a serious theft at least once (73). Though the effects of the street vary somewhat with crime and gender, they find that situational (criminogenic) variables play a prominent role as foreground (immediate) class conditions that cause street crime. Even taking into account a comprehensive range of control variables, Hagan and McCarthy find that, “consistently, hunger causes theft of food; problems of hunger and shelter lead to serious theft, and problems of shelter and unemployment lead to prostitution” (104).
One of the most interesting questions posed by the authors concerns the nature of the relationship between ontogenetic or sociogenic factors in understanding uneducated youth’s involvement in crime. That is, determining whether individual characteristics or the social environment are more important in predicting participation in criminal activities. One surprising finding is that although Toronto is a much larger city and has a larger proportion of homeless youth, Vancouver street youth were much more likely to be involved in theft, drugs, and prostitution. This finding even holds true when controlling for ontogenetic factors. The authors suggest that the differences arise from the approaches used by each city to deal with the problem. In 1992, Toronto still employed more of a “social welfare model”, providing shelters, hostels, student welfare, drop-in centres, and back-to-school support programs. In British Columbia, the legal definition of child encompasses anyone under 19 years of age, whereas in Ontario, one can legally leave home at the age of 16. Consequently, social agencies in British Columbia have a legal obligation to report street youth to the police, who in turn have an obligation to return these teens to their home and school. As a result of Vancouver’s law-enforcement (or “crime control model”), there are fewer resources available to street youth who are unable or unwilling to return to their homes, and thus who feel more of an immediate need to resort to illegal avenues for food, shelter and money.
Through this book, Hagan and McCarthy take an important step forward in helping “change the ways we view and care for young people, on and off the street” (xii). They show that the fundamental social problems of family unemployment and under-employment, lack of flexible education and training opportunities, and crime control responses to the by-products of socio-economic marginalization increase the probability of these youth turning to crime. Moreover, these situations could be diminished through a comprehensive social welfare network.
The influence of poor education in producing misconduct has been stressed by Agnew (1992); exposure to unwholesome companions, particularly to those who carry the habits and attitudes of law violation, may easily spread patterns of delinquency. In varying degrees everyone is so exposed, however, and the way in which a given person responds to stimuli of this sort through group suggestion depends very largely on his patterns of reaction to authority, morality, law, and his parents, matters that have been developed through his training in the home rather than the gang. These influences may facilitate or minimize the effects of the gang or of bad companions upon the person. One cannot measure the probabilities of an individual’s delinquency by his education alone and, indeed, the importance of the factor is undoubtedly exaggerated somewhat by reason of the fact that the child already disposed to delinquency prefers to associate with others whose values and conduct are similar.
Eysenck and Gudjonsson (1989) argue that sociability itself represents some risk of delinquency, since isolated and diffident children tend to work out solitary, nondelinquent adjustments. A combination of gregariousness together with a preference for daring companions and the suggestive pressures of the group toward delinquencies may be a powerful stimulant to recalcitrance. However, there are influences in the child’s traits of personality and character, his aggressiveness or passivity, his suggestibility or negativism, and – most important – his early training in relation to authority that may impel or restrain him from the associational influences. Delinquency results not from contact with patterns of illegality alone but from the numerous variables which may be associated with that contact, especially what the individual himself brings to it. His response depends on himself, and, therefore on his level of education.
As quantitative research tends to use hard, reliable data, and to have a view of the social world as external to the observer, quantitative approach would be more appropriate than a qualitative approach to investigating this topic. This research is associated with a number of different approaches to data collection. This survey generates quantifiable data on large numbers of people who are known to be representative of a population with a lack of education in order to test hypotheses.
Kemp’s model is based on the interaction of lack of education with socialization experiences and general intelligence. Kemp has identified three temperament traits, Psychoticism (F), Extroversion (E), and Neuroticism (N). Kemp predicts that individuals high on the F, E, and N traits will be at the greatest risk for the development of serious antisocial behavior. The risk of developing serious behavior problems will be exacerbated by poor education and by below average intelligence associated with low academic achievement. The P trait is the primary trait implicated in the development of serious antisocial behavior with elevations on E and N being secondary.
Empirical support for the existence of these race-specific uneducated subcultures (traditional ghetto or underclass) is typically garnered from ecological or ethnographic data. Benjamin using ecological data conducted a type of top-down analysis in which identified an underclass or ghetto community by its structural and demographic characteristics and then speculated on what type of subculture communities with these structural features are likely to produce. Traditional anomie models and more recent underclass models share the virtue of defining communities expected to be uneducated by widespread defeatism, despair, and a greater risk for crime arrests in easily identifiable terms. Anyone driving through the city who happens upon a black ghetto or underclass community will immediately recognize it by the widespread physical deterioration. With minimal effort, they can go beyond a mere drive-by analysis of the visible squalor and examine relevant census data on the structural and demographic characteristics of these communities, such as percentage black in the neighborhood, levels of neighborhood poverty, unemployment, female-headed households, and high school dropout rates. Once familiar with these statistics, they can classify these neighborhoods as ghettos or, if the statistics are high enough, as uneducated communities.
Obviously, many problems that plague a top-down analysis stem from the need to infer the subcultural motivations, values, and beliefs of ghetto/underclass subcultures from aggregate correlations between a neighborhood’s educational profile and neighborhood-level crime arrests.
Ethnographic studies by Covington involve thick descriptions of the shared values, beliefs, understandings, and drug-using practices of individual users observed in interaction with other users in small, face-to-face drug-using subcultures. Unfortunately, one of the major limitations of ethnographic data is that it is difficult to generalize beyond the members of the local limited networks who are typically interviewed in these studies. In other words, findings from one ethnographic study on a ghetto/underclass subculture in a single community cannot be generalized to other samples of ghetto/underclass residents in other cities unless these disparate samples can somehow be shown to be alike in terms of their motivations.
Covington makes no claim that their underclass/ghetto samples represent any larger population. However, when drug ethnographers suggest that the development of these ghetto-based subcultures stems from structural conditions like ghetto-specific lack of education or poverty, it becomes possible to infer that the motivations for drug use found in a single ghetto subculture apply nationally wherever the structural conditions that induce the formation of these subcultures is found.
Hoffman selects samples of criminal users because of his desire to describe their respondents’ use in terms of subcultural values and beliefs that are greatly at odds with conventional values. After all, it is easiest to discern the distinctive cultural elements of subculture using a sample of criminals because delinquency central in their lives and therefore likely to form a major portion of their identity. Young criminals are even more at variance with the norm because their drug use is supported by predatory crimes and because the drug imagery and the standards for defining prestige they create are so tied up with highly distinct criminal subcultural values.
In such analyses, researchers impose their own classification system on the small-scale subcultures being observed. This system suggests that the structural features of the respondents’ community are central to understanding the subcultures they form. It is not certain, however, that all adolescent ghetto/underclass informants would agree that they turned to crime because of lack of education or any other ills that anomie/underclass models imply. Indeed, they may be likely to describe their motivations as fitting in with friends, much like white adolescents in the mainstream. Yet, if not all ghettoites interpret their own drug use in these terms, it is difficult to know how to confirm the assertion that macrolevel structural forces like lack of education cause the increase of crime arrests.
With anomie or underclass models, Covington interpreted a community’s physical and demographic statistical profile in ways that seem to capture the normlessness, despair, defeatism, and indifference to human life that lurk underneath. Hence, by using these models, drug researcher, armed with a few statistics, claimed that residents with lack of education were at greater risk for abusing drugs and that drug users in these areas were likely to be desperate enough to involve themselves in immoral drug-related behaviors. Empirical support for the notion that structural conditions associated with traditional urban ghettos or the underclass cause a higher risk for drug use would seem to depend on aggregate associations between these structural traits and evidence of high neighborhood levels of drug use (as measured by drug arrests).
The factor as poor education contributes more significantly to crime arrests in developed countries than in those societies that are only now undergoing the process of development. In highly technologically advanced societies, education is the key to social advancement, and those who perform poorly in school are denied many legitimate opportunities for advancement. Unlike developing countries where general prosperity is uncommon, developed societies have attained an overall level of societal affluence that makes those members of society who lack the tangible signs of success more likely to resort to illegal means to acquire them. As Benjamin explains the impact of affluence on crime causation in developed societies:
The difference between the educational level of criminals and the general population is in all cases significant. Strong evidence from developed countries for which data are available suggests that the criminal population does not take advantage of the educational opportunities made available to them. Researchers in the U.S.S.R. point out repeatedly that criminals have a low educational level particularly those residing in rural areas. Certain categories of criminals such as murderers, hooligans, and recidivists have especially low levels of educational attainment. In the 1960s 67.8 percent of murderers had only a seventh grade education while the comparable figure for the general population was 59.5 percent in 1959. In Bulgaria, the Sliwen okrug (district), one of the regions with the highest rates of criminality, is a food and textile producing area where little incentive exists for educational attainment; and consequently, a significant number of criminals were school dropouts. The rest of the Bulgarian criminal population has also been characterized as possessing limited education or the specialized skills required for advancement in industrial society. Polish research also attests to the low level of educational attainment among the delinquent and young adult criminal populations. Research in Nowa Huta reveals that 40 percent of those arrested there had caused serious problems in school. A very significant share of the arrests was three or more years behind in their grade level. Youthful offenders are also more likely to drop out of school and among this group, 20 to 25 percent of them left school before the minimum leaving age of 14 (6).
Covington defines extreme poverty neighborhoods in terms of the relevant aggregate characteristics (percent unemployment, percent dropouts, etc.) and then proceeds to document the greater risk for crime arrests in underclass communities in the following manner:
One of the important unanswered questions about underclass concentration has been whether lack of education increases violent crime and drug. At least within older cities, the answer seems to be that it is. Many poverty areas have in effect become “zoned” for risky behavior leading to vast differences in the frequency of occurrence. In Washington, D.C., for example, crime arrests in 1980 already were 6 times higher per capita in adolescents who did not complete high school than in educated youth. However, between 1980 and 1988, the increase in crime arrest rates was 8 times greater (7).
Hoffman concluded that “this expanding underclass population reacted to exiting jobs and increased unemployment by turning to the only industry left – the crack trade” (4). Moreover, the increased concentration of persons with a lack of education isolated from any mainstream role models supposedly led to the development of alarming drug-induced cultural practices.
What may be emerging, Kemp believes, “is a tale of two drug problems: one in middle-class America, which may be over the worst of a 20-year mass experiment with illegal drugs, the other in the America of the poor, where, amid hopelessness and lack of education, people will suffer the worst consequences of cocaine, heroin”(7). Studies show that the people turning away from drugs are the most educated and affluent. The poorest and least educated have continued or have increased their drug use.
There seems to be many problems with anomie models. However, some evidence appears to support them, since youth with lack of education have much higher rates of arrest, conviction, and imprisonment for drag use and sales than do educated adolescents (Hoffman 2). On the basis of these data, the tendency of ghetto-specific models to argue that adolescents who dropped high school are more predisposed to crime arrests and to compartmentalize the minority drug problem appears justified. Unfortunately, arrest data are almost useless for making prevalence estimates of consensual crimes like drug use or sales, as neither party in a drug transaction is likely to report this crime to the police. Because of severe problems with the underreporting of drug crimes, many researchers avoid using arrest data altogether when talking about how widespread the use and sale of drugs may be. This is because arrests for consensual crimes like drug use and sales typically involve proactive police work; hence, increases and decreases in arrests may simply reflect changes in police effort rather than any real change in education.
Aside from the basic difficulty inherent in the lack of an organized behavior science from which to deduce or test causal hypotheses, there are other lesser hazards which block efforts toward understanding human conduct. A serious and persisting problem is that of etiological oversimplification. There is a tendency to attribute complex behavior to a single cause (lack of education) or to a few simple factors. From early demoniacal conceptions of the delinquent child as one filled with the spirit of evil, to the current dogmas of “psychological deviation” or “dropout,” students have gone through a long sequence of fads in causal attribution. Most of these theories have possessed in common a simplicity and obviousness in the factors selected as causal.
Agnew, R. (1992). “Foundation for a General Strain Theory of Crime and Delinquency.” Criminology 30.
Benjamin, Cynthia J. (1998). Mean Streets: Youth Crime and Homelessness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Covington, Jeanette (1997) “The Social Construction of the Minority Drug Problem.” Social Justice. Vol: 24 (4).
Eysenck, H. 3., & Gudjonsson, G. (1989). The causes and cures of criminality. New York Plenum Press.
Hoffman, Daniel. (1994). “Kids Out of Place.” NACLA Report on the Americas. Vol: 27(6).
Kemp, Dawn. (2000). “Troubled Children Grown-Up: Antisocial Behavior in Young Adult Criminals.” Education & Treatment of Children. Vol: 23 (3).