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Agnew on Juvenile Delinquency: A Theory Based Policy Paper

Daniel P. Morrow

Missouri Western State University



In 2005 alone, juveniles under the age of 18 accounted for 27% of the population size and

disproportionately accounted for 29% of those arrested for crimes (Gullion, 2006). Juvenile

delinquency has become a hot topic in society. It is my belief much of the issue is caused by poor

home life. Without a stable home life, juveniles are forced to seek fulfillment from other places.

Agnew, R. (1992) reveals juvenile delinquency stems from two factors. First, if the juvenile is not

being treated in a way which they believe is fair, they develop what Agnew labeled Negative

Relationships (Agnew, 2001). These negative relationships force the juvenile into a negative
mindset, such as anger. These negative mindsets place more pressure on the juvenile which then

forces the juvenile to seek some means of achieving goals despite the negative relationships and

mindsets. The answer they choose is often delinquent behavior. Agnews Strain Theory addresses

predictions about the cause for delinquent behavior. (Gullion, 2006)

Theoretical Perspective

Agnews Strain Theory specifically explains three causes for delinquent behavior. These

are: 1. juvenile delinquency results when an individual is blocked from attaining positive goals,

2. juvenile delinquency results when positive goals are removed or threatened to be removed,

and 3. juvenile delinquency results when youth are exposed to negative stimuli. (Agnew, 1992)

More broadly stated, criminal behavior in Agnews theory is a result of pressure and occurs

under the influence of negative affective states, and especially anger, which result from

unfavorable relations with other persons. (Czerwiska, 2011)

Strain, then, is a state that is a result of negative relationships, presence of influences or relations,

which the individual recognizes as unfavorable and which the individual does not want to have.

(Czerwiska, 2011) Agnew (2001) views the inability to escape unpleasant home atmospheres as

sources of frustration and viewed frustration as leading to delinquency. In response to this strain

and the negative emotional states (anger) that go along with it, juveniles may respond with acts

of theft, violence, vandalism, and drug abuse. (Gullion, 2006) Agnews theory focuses on the

individual and their response to stressors placed in their daily life. Agnew takes Mertons
original idea and expands on it specifically explaining delinquency in juveniles. Merton argued

the behavior stems from a person being placed in a position of financial strain. Still hoping to

achieve material success, they resort to crime in order to achieve socially desirable goals.

(Agnew, 1992) Agnew (1992) takes the idea of strain stemming from financial stress further and

argues strain may result from many negative experiences. However, he stated that strains can be

managed successfully provided the individual has effective coping mechanisms such as positive

self-identity, a social support networks, and a belief they can succeed or self-efficacy. (Barn &

Tan, 2012)

Policy Development

Understanding strain is a result of negative relationships with others and knowing these negative

relationships lead to negative moods such as anger; we should develop a program addressing

these two problems first. A program I would propose would have four aspects. These aspects

would be; 1 - Family Counseling, 2 - Social Services, 3 - School Services and finally 4 -

Treatment Services.

Family Counseling

Much of the stress on a childs life comes from within the family structure. If we take this

as fact, that family life is a huge cause of strain, focusing on the relationship of the family first

allows the stress to be alleviated at the root. The program would be an aid in restructuring the
family life. We can accomplish family counseling by providing therapy to both children and

parents. This would be done at the home of the children with the parents. By taking place in their

home setting, we place them in a natural setting and are better able to focus on the needs of the

family. Providing therapy in homes also allows counselors to see first-hand the interactions of

the children and parents and adjust for the individual families.

Family counseling can also take place in classrooms. Providing teaching in areas parents

may not be educated allows the parents to be effective in their role. By first giving parents the

tools needed to manage the raising of their kids, perhaps the strain can be prevented from

occurring in the first place. Agnew, R. (2001) states strain is more likely to result in crime when

the strain is believed to be unjust. Gullion, J. (2006) went further in stating the manner in which

a child was disciplined played a large factor. Since many times the common practice is to

respond to infractions with anger, educating parents on the correct manner of responding to

infractions may serve to alleviate some of the unnecessary stress due to perceived injustices

concerning discipline.

Fostering healthy interactions between parents and children would be the primary goal of

the counseling sessions. Developing healthy relationships between children and parents serves to

foster the resolution of conflict together and focuses on the root of the issues rather than focusing

on a single crisis.

Social Services
Social Services focus completely on providing the services to help attain and sustain a

job. Gullion, J. (2006) states youth may participate in deviant behavior when they are blocked

from legitimate employment in their effort to rise to the next social position. By focusing a facet

of the program completely on helping achieve employment, we can partially remove this source

of strain. This service may also be able to assist individuals in making the transition from relying

on welfare to working through employment that pays a livable wage.

This program would have multiple steps to it. Each of these steps would be a transition stage.

The program would start with someone who has never held a job or is not capable of holding a

job, educate them and provide the knowledge to help them achieve and then provide resources to

match them with a job. Understanding that each person starts on a different level, this program

must have the ability to assist the person where they are. In the beginning this would include

access to low income housing, childcare and possibly transportation to and from work locations.

As the person progresses through the steps, the program would move to hands off assistance

where the person is responsible for moving themselves forward, only relying on the program

when needed.

Knowing many people will take advantage of services offered to them, these services would be

offered under a contractual agreement between the person and the resource provider. Failure to

complete the contract in a specified time or with specified results would lead to immediate

removal from the program with no option for readmission. By holding the person accountable,
you would hopefully reduce the number of people in the program who were in it only for the

immediate benefits and who had no intention of working towards anything,

School Services

Many times juveniles who engage in delinquent behavior suffer from sub-par scholastic

performance. Education playing as big of part in the future of a person as it does, we must ensure

juveniles are at the level of education necessary to achieve their goals in life. Since not everyone

learns the same way, these services would focus much more on an extremely small classroom or

a one-on-one schooling than the traditional school. More than likely this would take the form of

a day school where students come to school during normal school hours and then return home.

Each student would receive a completely rounded education from P.E. to Music. Students that

need assistance in specific area would receive the one-on-one attention to continue the

progression of education. The classes and learning environment would be extremely structured,

not only teaching students their educational lessons but requiring the students to practice

self-control and self-motivation to build character as well.

These schooling services ensure a student is not focused on performing to meet a standardized

goal placed on them, but instead focused on learning and improving in the areas they need help.

By helping a student achieve academically, we hopefully remove the strain of not attaining an

Treatment Services

Treatment services would attempt to undue damages done in the past. Treatment services

would offer many forms of therapy to juveniles. These therapies would take place in one of two

ways. For cases that do not need intensive therapy or have made progress towards final goals, the

treatment would take place in a by session manner. The patient would schedule sessions and

would show up for the session and then return to their home. To effectively treat the worst cases,

these services would be done in a live in manner. Patients would live in a campus designed to

allow close monitoring of patients. While at the campus, students would receive their education

as well. This live in campus would best serve patients with histories of abuse, neglect, domestic

violence and multiple foster homes (Barn & Tan, 2012).

The treatment services would also provide training in coping skills. Simply removing a juvenile

from his environment will alleviate the stressful conditions for a time. Eventually the juvenile

will have to go back into the environment. By learning coping skills and how to effectively

handle stress, the juvenile is equipped to handle stressors when they arise.

The problem of juvenile delinquency has increased dramatically in the recent years. No

longer are the school problems simply a bully on the playgrounds. As an explanation for this

problem I have presented the theories of Agnews Strain Theory. Many of the ideas from

Agnews theory effectively explain the reasoning behind the delinquent acts of juveniles. The

program presented gives an answer to the causes of strain, unhealthy relationships and anger

resulting from these relationships. By focusing on the individual and providing answers to them

as a person instead of as a member of a group, we are much more able to provide assistance that

will have a long term effect. This program gives answers and resources to assist with unhealthy

relationships and additionally provides resources to deal with anger. By providing schooling, this

program also pushes the person to a place where they are able to reach the goals of



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Barn, R., & Tan, J. (2012). Foster youth and crime: Employing general strain theory to promote
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Czerwiska, E. (2011). Youth crime. An empirical test of Robert Agnews general strain theory.
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