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Understanding Adolescent Property Crime using a Delinquent Events Perspective
Vera Lopez a a School of Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
To cite this Article Lopez, Vera(2008) 'Understanding Adolescent Property Crime using a Delinquent Events Perspective',
Deviant Behavior, 29: 7, 581 — 610 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/01639620701839401 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01639620701839401
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Deviant Behavior, 29: 581À610, 2008 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0163-9625 print/1521-0456 online DOI: 10.1080/01639620701839401
understanding adolescent property crime using a delinquent events perspective
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Vera Lopez School of Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
This qualitative research employed an integrated symbolic interactionist=cultural studies framework to guide its focus on 24 male adolescent offenders’ perceptions of their involvement in delinquent events characterized by the commission of property crimes. Adolescents were asked to describe the situations within which their crimes were embedded, including what they were thinking and feeling throughout the course of the delinquent event. Results indicated that adolescents committed property crimes for thrills, to cope with stressors, to defend their gang, and for economic gain. In particular, each motive was associated with a certain set of interactions and conditions, which served as cues to guide the adolescents’ interpretive process and eventual meaning construction. The relation between this process and the larger culture is discussed.
INTRODUCTION Property crimes committed by adolescents represent a significant economic and societal problem in the United States.
Received 10 May 2007; accepted 25 August 2007. Special thanks to Gray Cavender, David Altheide, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Address correspondence to Vera Lopez, School of Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-0403, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Indeed, although Property Crime Index arrest rates, which include burglary, larceny-theft, auto theft, vandalism, shoplifting, and arson, have been declining in recent years (Snyder 2004), adolescents still continue to commit property crimes more often than any other types of crimes (Klaus 2006). To the extent that adolescent offenders choose to engage in property crime, it becomes important to examine the events and conditions leading up to the decision to commit crime as well as the subjective (offenders’ perceptions) and objective (e.g., presence of peers, drug=alcohol use) characteristics associated with the offending situation, otherwise known as the ‘‘immediate setting’’ in which criminal behavior takes place (Birkbeck and LaFree 1993:115). Ultimately, such offender-based and offense-specific explanations can play a significant role in the development of crime theory and prevention. APPROACHES FOR STUDYING CRIME FROM A SITUATIONAL PERSPECTIVE Historically, relatively few researchers have focused on understanding why individuals commit crime within certain situations (Birkbeck and LaFree 1993). Instead, most have focused on understanding criminality or what makes some individuals more likely to become criminals. However, in recent decades more researchers have begun to examine crime from a situational perspective, focusing on those ‘‘characteristics of the individual and the individual’s environment immediately preceding the crime’’ (Agnew 2006:125). These researchers generally belong to one of two camps: those who seek to understand the ‘‘aggregate characteristics’’ of crime situations (LeBlanc and Frechette 1989) and those who seek to understand offenders’ perceptions and interpretations of offending situations (Athens 1992, 1997; Katz 1988, 1991). The aggregate characteristic approach presumes that the causes of crime can be gleaned from statistical data related to the objective correlates (e.g., presence of peers, drug=alcohol use, use of weapons) of crime (see Athens 1997). Researchers ask individuals questions about the objective characteristics of offending situations and then present these data in an aggregated format to describe
As such. for example. Although such statements provide useful information about the descriptive parameters associated with specific offenses. minor property offenses (Katz 1988). it gives up in depth. auto theft (Copes 2003).Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 583 general patterns associated with specific types of crimes (Agnew 1990. which posits that human beings interact with one another by interpreting each others’ actions and then developing an ‘‘appropriate’’ behavioral response consistent with their interpretations. they fail to provide information on how different characteristics of an offending situation are interrelated and how adolescents’ perceptions of these characteristics can contribute to decisions to commit the delinquent act. family violence (Denzin 1984). Katz 1988. 2002. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 . The strength of this approach is that it relies on large samples with the potential to yield generalizable data. relying mainly on offenders’ accounts of their crimes. Thus. robbery (Hochstetler 2001. rape (Felson 1993). and gang crimes (Katz 1988). car jacking (Jacobs et al. what this approach gains in breadth. while simultaneously ignoring the fact that human behavior always takes place ‘‘within a context or situation that must be interpreted by the person who is confronted with the situation’’ (Athens 1997:23). Because of this emphasis on individuals’ interpretations and meaning ascriptions. how often offenders utilize weapons in the commission of burglaries and how often peers are present in the commission of auto theft. but rather in response to the ‘‘meaning’’ that is attached to such actions (Blumer 1969). LeBlanc and Frechette 1989). allowing researchers to make statements about. 2003). violent acts (Athens 1992. with notable examples including studies on murder (Luckenbill 1977). 1997). 1991). symbolic interactionist research (or those influenced by interactionist perspectives)1 tends to be qualitative in nature. individuals’ responses are not made in reaction to the actions of each other. The strength of this type of research is its ability to yield rich and detailed narratives about why and how individuals 1 Studies utilizing qualitative approaches to examine offenders’ perceptions and interpretations of criminal offending situations. The second approach to studying crime is the symbolic interactionist approach. reducing the study of crime and its surrounding conditions to frequency-level statistical data.
popular media. victims. but not others (Athens 1997). In response to this critique. in terms of their interaction with others. symbolic interactionist.584 V. in recent years. social sciences) play a major role in influencing actors’ meaning constructions. In view of that. law enforcement personnel). More specifically. because of this emphasis on actors’ interpretations. some theorists have suggested an integrated theoretical framework that merges symbolic interactionist and cultural studies perspectives (Dotter 2004). art. Ferrell 1999. symbolic interactionist approaches to the study of crime have focused on ‘‘why’’ offenders commit crime. Additionally. critics have routinely charged that symbolic interactionism is a micro-sociological perspective with no interest in theorizing about how structure and culture influences actors’ interpretations and meaning constructions (Fine 1993).e. without consideration of how the situational context might also be related to these decisions. the offenders’ accounts represent only one of many possible narratives (including self and other narratives) and sources of meaning generation about the delinquent event. In response to such critiques.g.. politics. like other approaches to the study of crime. Sacco and Kennedy 2002).. and interpretations (Dotter 2004. This view recognizes that larger cultural and social institutions (i. researchers have. CRIMINAL OR DELINQUENT EVENTS PERSPECTIVE Typically. However. 2001. film. Lopez Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 commit crime under some conditions. Young 1996). have only considered what was going on before the commission of a crime. contexts. thereby emphasizing the importance of viewing crime situations through the complex interplay between actors (e. The CEP challenges the offender-based focus of most criminological theories in favor of an . begun to adopt a more integrated approach for the study of crime situations resulting in the development of the criminal events perspective (CEP) (Meier et al. offenders. failing to account for what happened during and after the crime. these critics argue that symbolic interactionist approaches to the study of crime focus on individuals’ interpretations and meaning construction without consideration of how larger structural and cultural influences inform such meanings in the individual’s mind (Patrizi 2005).
involves examining what occurred during the commission of the crime. which includes simultaneously examining the offenders’ perceptions and characteristics. interpret. Sacco and Kennedy 2002) to guide an examination of male adolescents’ subjective interpretations of delinquent events characterized by the commission of property crimes. in turn. and justify their actions within criminal offending situations and how cognitions and emotions influence decisions to commit property crimes. gender. and an end (Kazemian and LeBlanc 2004. Criminal and delinquent events. and have been alternatively referred to as the precursor. the victim. Understanding the interactions between the offender and the victim and co-offenders as well as how these interactions are influenced by contextual and situational dynamics is crucial at this stage. and in some cases. The transaction phase. and the situational correlates and context of specific offenses associated with the criminal event. it was also recognized that their narratives represented idealized accounts. involve a beginning. and aftermath phases (Sherley 2004). unlike criminal acts. offenders. which in turn were shaped and influenced by larger cultural idealizations centered on youth. Symbolic interactionism in conjunction with a cultural studies approach (Dotter 2004) provided the theoretical backdrop for the study. interactions with peers. or what I refer to as the ‘‘delinquent event’’ in the current study. 2001. and emotional and cognitive states. transaction. Sacco and Kennedy 2002).Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 585 Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 integrated perspective. including what the offender did afterward as well as any resulting short-term and long-term legal or social consequences. Finally. Although the major focus of this study was to explore how male adolescents define. Finally. the aftermath phase involves what happened after the crime. race and ethnicity. middle. STUDY PURPOSE The purpose of the present study was to expand on the situational crime literature by using the criminal events perspective (Meier et al. The beginning or precursor phase involves what was going on prior to the commission of the crime and includes an examination of the preexisting offenderÀvictim relationship. it should be noted that my interpretations of the adolescents’ .
Eighty-five percent came from mid-sized or larger cities and fifteen reported a previous gang affiliation. race=ethnicity. I was able to directly recruit participants for the study. Eleven of the youths were Mexican American. youths across both settings were similar in terms of age. Reasons for non-selection varied across the two settings. nine agreed to participate.586 V. ages 14À20. Despite this. Sex offenders were not asked to participate at either location. METHODS Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 Study Participants and Recruitment Twenty-four male adolescent offenders. Residential treatment youths had completed half their stay whereas the halfway home youths were in the process of being transitioned into the community. inner-city background. Because I had worked at the residential treatment center for one year. Recruitment strategies differed across the two settings. Youths across the two settings differed with regard to length of stay. and eight were African American. and ultimately critique these theoretical approaches when discussing the narratives. In particular. and race=ethnicity. youths were recruited from two settings: a residential treatment home and a halfway home. In an attempt to maximize the number of accounts and variation in responses. I had no preexisting relationship with the adolescents at the halfway home so I relied on the program manager and counseling staff to recruit potential participants. participated in this study. verbal abilities. gender. most notably dominant criminological theories steeped in modernist traditions. influenced my own thinking about the adolescents’ narratives. I refer to. five were white. and gang affiliation. At the residential treatment center. most of the adolescents . Of the ten adolescents approached. and a willingness to disclose personal information. All youths were under the supervision of the state juvenile correction agency. youth. The criteria used to recruit participants were the same at both settings: level of rapport with me or the program staff. Thus. social science research. when appropriate. Lopez narratives were also influenced and shaped by larger cultural idealizations and discourses pertaining to offenders.
therefore only the participant and I were present during the interview. the staff and I emphasized to potential participants that participation was voluntary. which made finding a mutually convenient interviewing time difficult. and after the crime. Can you remember that time? Okay. during. At both research sites. I want you to tell me everything you can remember beginning with what you were doing several hours before. Each adolescent was asked to sign an assent form indicating an understanding of his human subjects’ rights before participating in the study. now I’d like you to tell me a story about that time. Data Collection A semi-structured interview was used to obtain information about each adolescent’s perceptions of his delinquent acts. Some of the youths worked evening hours in addition to attending treatment programs. I then asked each adolescent to: Think back to a time when you committed a crime. I asked each adolescent to discuss all crimes that he could remember committing in his lifetime. At the halfway home. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed in a private setting. The University IRB thought it best not to include them. scheduling difficulties represented the greatest barrier to participation. .’’ This decision was in accordance with both the juvenile corrections agency and the University’s Institutional Review Board.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 587 Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 who were excluded were sex offenders. this study specifically focused on delinquent events characterized by the commission of property crimes. The rationale for this decision was based on ethical concerns associated with having adolescents discuss their involvement in sex crimes in a non-clinical setting. To accomplish this. I also want you to tell me what you were thinking and feeling at each of these points. Although information was obtained on other types of crimes. Parental consent forms were not obtained because these youths were ‘‘wards of the state. Because of the sensitive nature of this study—asking adolescents about past delinquent behaviors—I discussed issues of confidentiality and anonymity with participants prior to their interviews.
I focused on these three aspects of the delinquent events accounts for two reasons. during. Lopez just as if you were telling me a story about what happened that day. from the adolescents’ perspectives. make sense or construct meaning of the delinquent event.’’ Consequently. previous delinquent events research suggests that planning. regardless of the ‘‘factual’’ accuracy of their accounts. I coded for the degree and presence of planning. it is possible that some of the adolescents deliberately distorted their explanations. was used to probe each participant’s responses by asking the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? at different points in the narratives. Nevertheless. First. I coded each delinquent event according to what I thought was the primary motivation as well as the participants’ thoughts and feelings prior to. I still regard these narratives as important snapshot representations of how these adolescents. as Agnew (1990:270) pointed out. I only used this probing technique sparingly. I do not think this was problematic because most of the adolescents chose to share their stories in great detail. and after the commission of a property crime. I developed codes focused on feelings of remorse and regret as they related to the victim as . peer involvement. a method that has been used successfully with juvenile offenders in the past (McGuire and Priestly 1985). and drug=alcohol use. and drug=alcohol use play a prominent role in the commission of delinquent acts (see Kazemian and LeBlanc 2004). However. Analysis Working inductively. peers. Second.588 V. Despite this. However. Thus I wanted to determine if. Finally. these ‘‘distortions’’ represent the ‘‘public motives’’ of delinquency and ‘‘can play a role in the generation of delinquency by conveying to others—and perhaps the delinquent himself—that delinquency is justified. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 The 5-HW method. despite this apparent candor. because I was interested in what the adolescents chose to highlight as opposed to what I thought they should highlight. upon reflection. these three aspects influenced how they viewed their participation within the delinquent event. most of the adolescents mentioned these three components in their narratives. Additionally.
shoplifting. vandalism. and obtaining material goods— are presented in what follows. I present only the most ‘‘popular’’ scenarios. motive=interpretive strategies were closely associated with the situational context. However. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 . A colleague independently coded the transcripts based on my previously established coding categories. without the specific intent to directly harm someone). However. that is. defending the gang’s honor. That is. I was only able to code whether they expressed remorse=regret or not. Examples of such crimes included theft. I use quotation marks to signify the participants’ words to distinguish them from my own. We cross-classified our results and found substantial reliability in our categorization of these events. Crime Motives In Search of Thrills Thirty-one (52%) of the 60 delinquent acts involving property offenses were committed primarily for ‘‘kicks. because the majority of the adolescents failed to discuss any feelings of remorse=regret. Put another way. auto theft. each motive was associated with a certain set of events and conditions. arson. as characterized by one of these motives—thrill seeking. those that were most often reported. coping.’’ 2 Throughout the text. Four motive=interpretive strategies emerged as a result of the data analysis. which served as cues to guide the adolescents’ interpretive process and eventual meaning construction. RESULTS The sample of 24 adolescents described 60 delinquent events characterized by the commission of a property crime. because delinquent events are characterized by complex interactions between individual offenders and situational contexts and dynamics. Qualitative accounts of each delinquent event context.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 589 well as whether thoughts about getting caught influenced the decision to commit a property crime. Property crimes included any act of destroying or stealing property even when the primary motive was to ‘‘get back’’2 at an actual person(s). and drive-bys (only when directed against property. burglaries. for each motive-driven crime type.
indicating that the crime would not have been ‘‘as fun’’ had there not been at least ‘‘some possibility’’ of getting caught. delinquent events characterized by a group of offenders versus a solo-offender were distinct on a number of qualitative dimensions. .’’ as narrated by an 18-year-old AfricanAmerican male: . . It was a thrill. I played it off like I was going to pay for it and they [friends] gave me some money too as the waitress was going by .’’ I ran out. So they said. Then the lady brought us the ticket. the youth was readily identifiable to many witnesses and the crime was in a public setting. Although most of the crimes in this category were committed in the presence of peers. some youths also reported committing crimes alone. The following example demonstrates a delinquent event characterized by the search for thrills and the presence of ‘‘co-conspirators. shoplifting. the youth decided to participate. That is.We had just come back from a party . Nevertheless. . . So I walked up to the counter and they [friends] were already in the car.’’ We all went to Denny’s. they walked to the car. burglary. to play it off like they was giving me money for the meal. I didn’t want them [Denny’s employees] to get suspicious. The most salient aspect of these events. vandalism. And I told the person [Denny’s employee]. and everybody was real hungry. went through two doors. This account provides an illustration of a crime that was committed with a high risk of getting caught. Despite this. the more attractive the crime. All my friends. But my friends ordered a lot of desserts and stuff. I didn’t order a whole lot.590 V. was the degree of risk involved: the higher the risk. Despite these similarities.’’ And she said. the youth acknowledged that he was not ‘‘overly concerned’’ with . ‘‘I need to ask my friends something. ‘‘Hold on sir. ‘‘Let’s go to Denny’s and run out. irrespective of whether only one youth or more than one youth participated. including theft. . Lopez ‘‘fun. they might get suspicious. . and auto theft characterized this type of delinquent event. Twenty-one delinquent events were committed either in pairs or in groups of three or more adolescents. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 Group Crimes.’’ Different property crimes.’’ or ‘‘thrills. If we ordered all this food. and jumped in the car and took off.
. it became clear that he also enjoyed the process of committing the burglary. adolescents admitted that they were motivated by both a desire to obtain stolen goods and to ‘‘put excitement in [their] day. . And. A 16-year-old Mexican-American male described how he and his friends broke into a neighborhood ‘‘mom and pop’’ store. Again. their accounts of these delinquent events tended to focus primarily on the fun they had while committing the crimes. are often characterized by a sense of risk-taking and camaraderie.’’ However. As the previous narratives illustrate. as opposed to their illbegotten material goods. It was tight. They served as ‘‘co-conspirators’’ who not only participated in the decision to commit the crime. . we robbed this dude’s house.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 591 Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 getting caught because he figured he could ‘‘outrun the lady [Denny’s employee]. the high-risk nature of the crime.’’ Other adolescents also reported committing property crimes primarily for fun. Indeed. they served as audience members to the individual offender’s antics. . Although the youth initially decided to break into the house to steal. as illustrated by the following account from an 18-year-old white male: . I had a pocketful of money.’’ When asked why he committed the crime. I did it just for the fun of it. had a good time . they always stayed to celebrate the successful completion of the crime. And we found a little ounce of weed underneath his bed in a little tin tray and a little bong. he was feeling bored when he and his friends came across a store that had an unlit storefront on the way home from a night of ‘‘drinking and partying. group crimes. the youth responded ‘‘I didn’t break in the store for money. of course. .’’ At other times. We hit it hard . I was bored. as illustrated by a . put a porno flick on the TV . peers played a number of salient roles in these delinquent events dramas. as indicated by the youth staying in the home and ‘‘smoking [a] bong’’ and watching TV may have added to the dangerous allure of the delinquent experience. According to this adolescent. . a green one. at least from the perspective of adolescents. but also helped carry it out by partaking in a number of supporting roles ranging from decoy to lookout. . Additionally. . the excitement I guess.
Hochstetler 2002. Not surprisingly. They did not express remorse or regret and did not view their participation as problematic from a . Katz 1988. what was absent from these accounts was any insight into the role that drugs=alcohol might have played in their decision to commit crimes. alcohol (and more rarely marijuana) played an important role in post-crime celebrations with groups of young men often meeting up afterward to drink and laugh about their close calls. We were laughing at him and laughing at us. Sometimes. Jacobs et al. Thus. the adolescents approached and continued to view their participation in these delinquent events as inconsequential. we got away!’’ even though we tipped the sensor off! Another youth. We got out. But we made it. and met up at the school. youths reported drinking or smoking marijuana prior to committing the crime. . 2003. harmless fun. it was a close call.592 V. described what happened after participating in a joint shoplifting spree with peers: Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 We ran out to the car. . Lopez 16-year-old Mexican-American male who described what happened after the commission of a group theft: When we was done and at the house. cheering like we’d just accomplished something good. Jacobs et al. drove off in our cars. we were mostly ragging on [friend’s name] for going down the candy aisle and almost getting us busted right then and there. rarely did they report a belief that drugs=alcohol influenced their decisions. and laughing . The intent was to engage in a group crime for the primary benefit of having fun in a highly risky context (Copes 2003. We all ran out. jumped up and down. Jacobs and Wright 1999). Katz 1988) with little pre-crime planning beyond an agreed upon decision to commit the offense (Kazemian and LeBlanc 2004). a 15-year-old African-American male. 2003. clowning. and almost got caught. As the aforementioned narratives illustrate. Although the youths generally acknowledged that the alcohol or drugs (usually marijuana) made them feel good. saying ‘‘Yeah. just acting a fool. However. as in the case with the store theft described earlier. from an interpretive perspective. adolescent offenders like other groups of offenders commit crimes for fun and thrills (Copes 2003. hollering.
That’s the best I can explain it. . the best house I ever broke into? It was this security guard’s house. . Solo-crimes lacked the celebratory component associated with the group thrill crimes. This was particularly evident with burglaries. You always gonna find jewelry. . Anything in this house is yours and you never know what you are going to find. . It’s yours. . an old fashioned 22. he also compared the process of committing burglary to Christmas: It does give you a rush. Ten thrill crimes were committed alone. That was my best house! Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 Although the youth clearly enjoyed the items he stole. . It’s just like Christmas. . . . Guns. I opened it up. . . I then started looking through other drawers and stuff and I found a 22. A 16-year-old white male provided an example of a solo-crime committed for thrills: . . . Solo-Crimes. jewelry.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 593 personal viewpoint even if they did acknowledge that it was problematic from a legal standpoint. his reaction to the guns went beyond a utilitarian desire for money. adolescents derived their enjoyment primarily from the ‘‘power’’ they felt when sorting through other people’s belongings. . as illustrated in the aforementioned narrative. yeah! And I also found a Crown Royal bag and it was just like a Christmas present. I went in and checked under the bed first to see if he had guns or anything. . Instead. Once you crack that window and you’re inside the house. . . The youths also seemed to be very in-tuned to the material objects they accrued. The stolen goods represented objects of affection as opposed to generic items that could be easily pawned for money and drugs (Katz 1988). as illustrated by the second example. . It was a chrome 25 and I was feeling powerful. And I opened up some drawers and he had stacks about this high (holds hand about two feet off the ground) of Playboys and Penthouse and I flipped through them. Such a . it’s like Christmas Day. . Anything you see. An 18-year-old white male described a similar depiction. Like I had some power. it’s just like you got so much energy because you know it’s like . I know ‘cause he had his uniform in there.
. As a result. the other dude did and he didn’t get nothing. and Hopelessness In 10 (17%) of the 60 property crime delinquent events. Lopez relationship between the offender and the stolen goods was not evident in the group crime situations. Anger. He suspended me! I didn’t start the fight. . stealing the property of their perceived perpetrator(s). . And the principal started taking his side. and arson primarily out of an extreme state of frustration. Thus. they reported destroying or. Alternatively. . That’s why I went back after school and busted up all the windows with a baseball bat. this crime instance was not an impulsive response. as illustrated by the following narrative from a 17-year-old Mexican-American male who described how a school fight led to a negative encounter with the school principal. He planned when and where to commit the crime and waited until after school to carry out his plan. In seven instances. I made sure to especially get the principal’s office windows. . And I showed him what I thought of it.594 V. the adolescent reported either trying to initially address the perceived injustice in a conventional manner. Thus. in three instances. but rather one that was thought out. I was so mad. In each instance. the youth did not believe that the school principal had treated him fairly. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 As this narrative illustrates. anger. Coping with Frustration. or he reported a belief that alternative noncrime means for solving the problem would most likely meet with failure. he decided to take matters in his own hands by committing a property crime characterized by aggression. or hopelessness stemming from what they perceived as an injustice done to them by another. which in turn. these adolescents coped with their feelings of frustration and anger by taking matters into their own hands. adolescents committed acts of vandalism. mad that the principal and the teachers always blame everything on me. I didn’t think it was fair what he did to me. . less commonly. precipitated the destruction of school property. He [the principal] started raggin’ on me and talking all this mess about my negative attitude and stuff that already had happened in the past. only to be met with failure. theft. they destroyed property that was somehow associated with the perceived perpetrator.
’’ But then he went on to state: I didn’t really care about the bitch anymore. Although he professed that the crime was ‘‘all about easy money. ‘‘Fuck that bitch if she wants to be a stuck up little bitch!’’ I don’t care. . make some easy money. I was like. but I went back to her house and told her can I get another cup of ice and she had this attitude with me and I was like. the youth instead reported a ‘‘feeling of accomplishment’’ and a belief that justice had been established. .’’ In another example. a 17-year-old white male. and she was like. I think twenty out of her sister’s room. ‘‘Whatever. thus making it the ideal target for the youth to release his pent-up frustration and anger at a perceived injustice. I was happy when I did it. . I stole money out of her room. she kept it under the stairs . ‘‘Nah. ‘‘Is that all you come to my house for is a cup of ice? All you doing is coming up to my house for a cup of ice. whatever. I just didn’t give a fuck about her anymore. Buy some dope. ‘‘I know this really easy hit we can pull fool. ‘‘It was all about easy money. you don’t even want to talk to me. instead of feeling remorse or regret. or in his own words that the ‘‘the principal and the teachers got what they deserved.’’ it was clear that his ex-girlfriend was targeted in large part because she had displayed an ‘‘attitude’’ and had slammed the door in the youth’s face.’’ So I was like. Not surprisingly.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 595 The school represented a symbolic representation of the principal. the youth at first responded. I wasn’t even buzzing. When asked if he was trying to get back at his ex-girlfriend for slighting him. And I knew where she kept her key. can I get a cup of ice?’’ She gave me the ice and I went back drinking.’’ I was like. talking trash and stuff. ‘‘Then. so like a couple of weeks later I told my homeboy [peer’s name]. ‘‘Man. . And she slammed the door on my face. . described why he decided to steal from an ex-girlfriend: Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 I went to her [ex-girlfriend] house . She was getting a funky ass little attitude with me. . fuck you bitch! I don’t give a fuck!’’ And I just left. I stole all her mom’s jewelry. . .’’ And then she said.’’ And we just broke in. . and I asked her if she wanted to come drink with me .
Only 4 of the 10 coping crimes involved drug=alcohol use at some point in time. which in turn create pressures for ‘‘corrective actions. an interpretive framework emphasizes how the offender’s interpretation of the situation results in his decision to engage in .’’ with crime being a particularly appealing coping response for some individuals. As a result of their interpretations. they engaged in an emblematic attack against their perceived oppressor characterized by either destroying or stealing his or her property. . . adolescents mentally processed problematic situations and arrived at the conclusion that they themselves were the true victims. So whenever we got the chance to get away and have fun. destroyed things. That was just something to do to get our minds off things. Ever since we were growing we lived in shelters and all that shit. according to Brezina (1996). . These data. we did crime. such usage was not consistently associated with coping crimes. . strains or stressors increase the likelihood of negative emotions like anger and frustration. . However. . never had nothing nice like other people have. You didn’t know what the fuck to do. That shit was stressful. . . they became angry and incensed. From an interactionist perspective. Life was just totally fucked up. 2001) General Strain Theory (GST). . . which refers to strains as ‘‘relationships in which others are not treating the individual as he or she would like to be treated’’ (Agnew 1992:48). although limited in scope. To cope and deal with these feelings. Such an interpretive outlook is consistent with Agnew’s (1992. . Shit. . However. We didn’t have no food. . . unlike Agnew’s General Strain Theory. Lopez Some youths indicated that they participated in property crimes as a way to cope with life stressors.596 V. Under such circumstances. Nevertheless. indicate that committing crimes served as a way to deal with problematic situations above and beyond the use of drugs=alcohol. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 Although youths sometimes used drugs=alcohol as a means for coping with life stressors. We stole things. they spoke in general terms as opposed to describing specific delinquent events. their narratives provide further insight into the link between coping and property crimes as indicated by the following passage from a 16year-old Mexican-American male: My life was fucked up. .
you know. ‘‘Hey. . And they never left. typified this context. a cultural studies perspective would take this analysis one step further by asking why these adolescent males interpreted the event in the way that they did and why they ultimately decided to participate in the emblematic attack against their victim. they [owners] would say. In this respect.’’ Youths also reported tagging over other gang members’ markings or tagging in a rival gang’s territory as a way to display dominance. the individual is an actor with agency. Defending the Gang I coded six (10%) of the 60 property crime delinquent events as gang crimes committed because the individual believed that his gang had been affronted in some way. If the police come around . and the use of weapons. as illustrated by the following narrative: . Psyched us up and we planned it out. . vandalism and drive-by shootings. the adolescents did not. it [zay] made us even more crazier. .’’ drug=alcohol use. victim as the oppressor) characterized these crime contexts. .e. . . the youth indicated ‘‘Because I wanted to hurt or scare him [enemy] for what he did to [gang member’s name] and to show him up for messing with [gang name]. . and we smoked to curb those feelings .’’ Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 When asked to state the primary reason why he engaged in the drive-by. Two types of property crimes. . .. Additionally. embalming fluid on weed . me and a bunch of my homeboys found out this [rival gang name] was talking noise about jumping [fellow gang member’s name] so we was upset so we went and got a bunch of zay. as indicated by the following quote from a 3 The author uses the term ‘‘victim’’. We got together and we drove by the house and shot it up and then we took the back streets until we hit [name of freeway] to [name of club]. not just a person who reacts to a problematic situation with anger. they were here the whole night. Pre-crime feelings of ‘‘nervous energy’’ and ‘‘adrenaline highs’’ along with negative thoughts about the victim3 (i.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 597 the delinquent act. Other characteristics included the presence of ‘‘co-conspirators.
discussed the ramifications of refusing to follow peer-initiated gang directives: We’d have our meetings. . . We got . peer solidarity represented an enduring facet of gang crimes. . You don’t want to do it [commit crime]. . you don’t do it. another youth. you can’t see the motherfucker. . we mark out other gang signs and write ours. if I need help. Can’t see God doing that for me. . I can see that. It shouldn’t be that way. . Shit it’d be like that. we expect you to do them. I mean I can’t trust Him . I have faith in that. I can see my OG and my homeboys doing that for me. as indicated by the following quote from a 16-year-old African-American male: I ain’t got friends that try to peer pressure you. it’s cool. We show them what’s up.598 V. but I got my faith in my people. as illustrated by the following quote from a 16-year-old Mexican-American male: Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 I ain’t got no faith in God’s ass. . But then. shit. many of the gang members reported that ‘‘being down’’ for their ‘‘homeboys’’ was of utmost importance to gang life. the youths often emphasized the importance and value of their friendships. I got no faith in God. then we do something to you. You ain’t got to do it you know. He can reach out and pull me up and I can see him do it. Indeed. We’re all together. I ain’t got no faith. let them know we mean business. We ask you to do something and you want to be down with us. When describing gang crimes. I ain’t even got that. I can see them walking down the street. I can see my OG over there. but I got no faith. It’s like unity. They ain’t actually going to make you do it if you don’t want to. . . youths still tended to downplay their influence. Maybe one day . It’s just when you violate our [gang] laws. They gonna give me some money. a 16-year-old white male. There ain’t no reason to go against each other. Despite exulting their peers.’’ As the previous example illustrates. . they say faith is the size of a mustard seed. . he gonna pull me off the ground. You don’t want to do it. They see me on the ground with no money in my pocket. Lopez 16-year-old Mexican-American male: ‘‘We do it to mark our territory . Yet.
are pressured to act in accordance with gang rules and norms. including decreased status in the gang. you do it. You just know who is the leader and who is not and you respect them [leaders] for that. For example. 1997. Goods. . Messerschmidt 1993). Crimes in this category included a wide array of property thefts characterized by some degree of planning. Failing to do so results in a number of social consequences. That is. According to such perspectives. they interpreted the situation through the lens of existing gang rules and norms. subcultural values and norms have a tremendous influence on the individual gang member’s interpretive process and eventual meaning construction with respect to those situations involving conflict with a rival gang or its members. adolescents sought to minimize risk. behaviors that are valued within certain cultural contexts and settings (Anderson 1994. Brooks and Silverstein 1995). The intent was to commit the crime and reap its benefits. . the youths still presented their narratives in such a way as to indicate that they bought into the gang rules and norms. Furthermore. and peers when present operated as ‘‘co-conspirators’’ only. Thus. when inner-city males are unable to live in accordance with idealized conceptions of masculinity. That is. A number of theoretical frameworks. I mean if you’re asked to do something and it’s in the law. an 18-year-old African-American Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 . and Drugs Thirteen (22%) of the property crime delinquent events were committed primarily to accrue some material benefit. most notably Anderson’s (1994. which leads them to partake in ‘‘codes’’ or ‘‘dark behaviors’’ of masculinity such as aggression and violence. . Going after Money. youths. 1995) provide a useful backdrop from which to speculate about these findings. As this quote indicates. when faced with conflict with rival gang members. Despite this. 1997) discussion of the ‘‘code of the streets’’ and the gender role strain-conflict model (O’Neil et al. at least on the surface. in certain situations males may engage in delinquent or criminal behavior as a mechanism for demonstrating their masculinity (Copes and Hochstetler 2003. not to have fun.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 599 loyalty. from a cultural perspective. usually to obtain money for drugs. they may suffer from psychological problems or strain.
. They were concerned with getting caught and wanted to be as covert as possible. . And so I went to the mall to Champs where they had jerseys for his kids. which could then be sold for drug money: We took the microwave. we didn’t sit on the couch and smoke. youths who participated in economically driven crimes tended to report being ‘‘nervous’’ and ‘‘scared’’ during the commission of these crimes. For one. Youths who committed burglaries were particularly nervous about owners walking in on them. . These people. A 17-year-old white male provided another example of this type of delinquent event. the stereo. a black and white TV and a little stereo. only this time the youth confided that he wanted to steal in order to sell the stolen goods for drug money. so we didn’t get no good stuff. We wasn’t getting no money off no microwave. we done stuff like that at other times . A 16-year-old white male also described burglarizing a house in order to obtain material goods.600 V. I just walked into her house and robbed her. . We didn’t have a good time. . . the black and white TV. As this example illustrates. . the youth responded: I was nervous. I’d steal jerseys for him and he’d pay me. as illustrated by the following narrative from a 17-year-old African-American male: . We didn’t have a good time. And I’d steal them. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 I was at my house and it was around Thanksgiving and I wanted some drugs and I didn’t have no money so I ran over to this house and I broke into my neighbor’s house. Somebody could shoot you. It’s like you’re scared. So wasn’t no good time. . When asked what he was feeling during the burglary. they didn’t live in no good neighborhood. but not this time. what we needed wasn’t there. Lopez male described how he would steal jerseys and then sell them to an ‘‘established customer’’: Some guy that lived in my apartments. I don’t know about the other dudes. but I was nervous. somebody could be in the room and we don’t even know about it. We took whatever we could get.
‘‘Oh I must have the wrong address!’’ Just go on about my business. I’d say [for example]. ‘‘Do you have such and such whatever?’’ And they’d say ‘‘no’’ and I’d say ‘‘All right. I’d ask them a question.’’ And I’d walk out the store. The decision to include peers as ‘‘co-conspirators’’ was also influenced by the desire to minimize the possibility of getting caught. Indeed several youths stated that they would prefer to ‘‘work alone’’ because they were afraid that the peers would ‘‘snitch’’ if they ‘‘got caught. planning beyond an initial decision to carry out the crime characterized these delinquent events. They would tell me they didn’t have it and I’d say thank you and move on. And just walk up to the store and get what I needed. I say. . . I go to the back. a 17-year-old Mexican-American male stated: I commit most of my [crimes] by myself. a 16-year-old white male described a ploy he would use to burglarize homes: I knock on the door on a street that don’t have many cars on it . ‘‘Nah. they will snitch. And if he gets caught. Like a book will fall. with some other person and we get caught. Ask them if they had something I knew they didn’t sell. as illustrated by the following quote from an 18-year-old African-American male: I was thinking about exactly what I was going to need to do to get the jerseys. Because adolescents approached these crimes with the intent to accrue material goods. If they [homeowners] ain’t there. I just go through them or break them. I’ll say ‘‘Is James Epstein here?’’ If they say. streets that don’t got that crime watch and all that. See if it was busy or not. and you’d just have a heart attack .’’ I act like I’m looking at something. . .’’ For example. . . like a nerdy kid. . . Watch the store to see who all was watching.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 601 you’re creeping up to the room. If the windows are open. . And I knock on the door and if somebody answers. he’ll snitch on me and then me and him will go down for it so I’d rather just go by myself. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 Similarly. Check the windows first. That’s the kind of image I try to portray to people. . . Because if I go alone . . ‘‘Is James Epstein here?’’ I try to be very sincere . To play it off.
the role of drug=alcohol use appeared to take on a different form for economically driven property crimes than it did for thrill crimes. and it was my mistake for trusting him .’’ On the other hand. . drugs=alcohol use served primarily to enhance the celebratory nature associated with carrying out the crime. And he told on me . but he stayed there. several adolescents noted that they intentionally stayed away from drugs or alcohol because ‘‘you get so messed up you don’t know what you’re doing and sometimes you get caught. but rather that they recognized the potential for problems if they did so. one youth described both advantages and disadvantages to using drugs when committing property crimes: It’s better not to do them [crimes] at all. the goal was to obtain money to supply a drug habit whereas in thrill crimes. Despite this. And the damn beeper thing went off. . Thus. The big dummy. It don’t ride your mind as much. most youths reported that they were not under the influence when committing economically driven crimes. On the other hand. I don’t know what was up with him. . In economically driven crimes. . But if you do. . should have never trusted him in the first place. And I was waiting for him down the road. Indeed. . most also acknowledged that they were committing property crimes in order to obtain stolen goods that could then be sold for money to support a drug habit. And his parents got called and all this other stuff. In contrast to crimes committed for other reasons. you don’t think about it as much. . . one youth who involved a peer later came to regret his decision: I grabbed some CDs and I walked out and I stuck them in my pocket. most youths agreed that it was not a ‘‘good idea’’ to be under the influence while committing economically driven property crimes. it’s better not to [do drugs] so that you can know what you are doing. And he [co-conspirator] was right behind me and I just broke off and I was already gone.602 V. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 In terms of drug=alcohol use. On the other hand. Lopez This is not to say that youths never included peers in economic crimes. He stayed there. For example. . when you high. youths sometimes expressed remorse or regret for their delinquent .
They would . . youths expressed a lack of concern for getting caught: There wasn’t a lot going through my mind. . I didn’t care about nobody else but myself and or my homeboys or my family or whatever. the exception to this was when the youths were committing economically driven crimes. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 A 16-year-old Mexican-American male also shared how he felt remorse=regret after a burglary. And then we drank a 40 and I was thinking. at other times. an 18-year-old African-American male stated this when asked if he had thought about the possibility of getting caught after shoplifting: No. Again. youths reported that they did not want to get caught. I had done it so many times and had never gotten caught. However. For example. At other times. I guess I didn’t even think about it. as illustrated by the following example narrated by a 16-yearold white male: Seeing the pictures [after breaking into a house]. the youths tended to quickly displace these unpleasant feelings with a ‘‘fuck it who cares’’ attitude. even in these instances. I wasn’t too concerned about it. . I knew that I had gotten caught. That’s just how I felt. Then I said. Nevertheless. we saw this lady’s graduation ring and I felt bad about it.’’ However. In these instances. ‘‘Man.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 603 actions. That was just me . youths reported that it was unlikely that they would get caught. they just wanted ‘‘to get the job done. only to quickly displace these feelings: I felt bad this one time . the only time youths tended to express guilt or remorse was when they broke into someone’s house and were confronted with pictures and deeply personal objects belonging to their victims. but you know how I use to feel. I was at the point where I couldn’t believe that I would get caught. however. Yeah it does kind of bother me. . so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Youths also rarely expressed concern for getting caught prior to committing their offenses. I’m going to leave this [graduation ring] on her [lady’s] doorstep. ‘‘Fuck the bitch!’’ and threw it in the bayou.
Therefore. general strain theory (Agnew 1992). SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION An integrated symbolic interactionist and cultural studies approach (Dotter 2004) was used as the overarching framework of this study. with an intent on minimizing the possibility of getting caught (Clarke and Cornish 1985. It was just another day. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 Crimes committed primarily to obtain money. their narratives reflected interpretations consistent with these motives and specific to certain types of situational contexts and interactional dynamics. youths were usually not on drugs=alcohol during the commission of economically driven crimes. Lopez just take me to juvenile and I would end up going home anyway so I wasn’t too concerned.604 V. LeBlanc and Frechette 1989). In contrast to crimes committed for thrills. Kazemian and LeBlanc 2004). with its underlying postulation that actors construct meaning through an interpretative process based on their interaction with others as well as their position within the larger society. As such. adolescents committed property crimes for fun (Agnew 1990. on the surface. planning. rational choice theory (Clarke and Cornish 1985). Economically motivated crimes generally involved fewer co-offenders. . However. but not limited to. Katz 1988. considering the costs and benefits. and a tendency to select anonymous victims (Kazemian and LeBlanc 2004). material goods. 2001. Consistent with previous research. although these explanations. This theoretical approach. to obtain money or goods (Agnew 1990. Cornish and Clarke 1986). and. the interpretations that guided adolescents’ involvement in delinquent activity were quite different from situation to situation. to defend their gang’s honor (Sanders 1994). can be easily viewed through a variety of positivist theoretical lenses including. and subcultural deviance theory (Anderson 1994. as was evidenced in the current study. to cope or deal with feelings of anger and frustration (Agnew 1992. Brezina 1996). was particularly relevant to an explanation of adolescent involvement in delinquent events. or drugs provided the most clear-cut examples of delinquent events that I studied. Adolescents approached these crimes in a rational manner.
irrespective of the specific motive=interpretative strategy used. only in obtaining the economic benefits of the crime. in particular. Hence. it might be more insightful to refer to these four dramatization types as motive=interpretive strategies. their portrayals of the economic crimes were much different. they did not rely on peer pressure as an explanation for their involvement nor did they blame their involvement on drugs=alcohol. because of its supposed neutrality. their stories suggest that crime. The openended social science interview. in some instances.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 605 1997). served as a supporting cast. the adolescents tended to emphasize the thrills and adventurous nature present throughout the delinquent event. Overall. their willingness to place themselves front and center may have had to do with the degree to which they believed me to be a sympathetic listener with no vested interest or power to harm them. nor did they discuss any negative aspects related to their participation in those scenarios characterized by a desire for thrills. when discussing stories centered on fun and post-crime celebrations. Again. provides an important stage upon which the adolescent can present his interpretation of the events. and his version of the truth. As such. The adolescent cast himself in the more serious role of the economically driven thief. They did not express remorse or regret. doing so fails to adequately account for the interpretative process as well as the subjective nature of these accounts. his construction of meaning. with an emphasis on the interpretive process that adolescent offenders go through within the context of different scenarios associated with the commission of property crime. often laughing and smiling as they recalled and shared their exploits. except fleetingly. In contrast. For example. when present. Stories specific to each of the four motive=interpretive strategies were presented in different ways. Some aspects of their stories might have differed had they been forced to share them with police or other authority figures. whereas their peers. Another aspect that the adolescents tended to emphasize. an individual who was not interested in fun and games. serves as a means for adolescent males to engage in a mutually satisfying and shared experience. In Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 . was the saliency of their involvement in comparison to their peers and in relation to drugs=alcohol. They were the ‘‘stars’’ of their dramatizations.
as an attempt to separate the moral community from the ‘‘outlaw’’ who. even within the rarefied realm of the social sciences (Wright and Decker 1994). at least as represented by post-event narratives.606 V. they might have been more open to sharing different. motivated by the desire to attract viewers. and listeners. because of his disvalued act. like all individuals. perhaps less appealing aspects of the delinquent event. Ferrell 1999. On the other hand. they might have been tempted to downplay their own role while simultaneously enhancing the role that peers and drugs=alcohol played. It serves. gender. and the lay public in general grasp onto these mediated views of the youthful offender as an outcast or ‘‘outlaw’’ deserving of punishment (Young 1996). However. This is not to say that any of these possible versions represent the absolute truth or even that an absolute truth. Henry and Milovanovic 1996). the media as a meaning generating machine. most notably preexisting and dominant sociocultural representations of youth. and in some instances. their narratives can also be interpreted within the context of larger cultural underpinnings. that while they are often studied. Thus. Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 . Young 1996). Lopez particular. in order to titillate the public’s sense of outraged morality. becomes a disvalued person. The popular media plays a central role in the promulgation of such stereotypical representations. Thus. is possible. highlights the sensationalistic aspects of the delinquent event in question. as Young (1996) points out. their perspective is hardly ever acknowledged. construct meaning within interactions with others. images that often serve to harm the offender by continually reproducing stereotypical caricatures.’’ and ‘‘dangerous offender’’ (Barak 1999. crimes that have been exposed by the media for the public’s consumption (Barak 1999). so much so. Adolescents’ meaning construction processes are also influenced by the larger culture within which they live. a person whose perspective is also disvalued. The source of such views stems from media representations of delinquent events. race=ethnicity (Dotter 2004. such as ‘‘delinquent gang banger. but rather to emphasize that adolescents. the public is left only with images of crime as imagined by others without benefit of the offender’s perspective (Young 1996). with a trusted friend than they were with me. the juvenile justice system. readers. Politicians.
it can be applied. the delinquent event’s meaning. The unique contribution of the current study is that it provides insight into Downloaded By: [Umea University Library] At: 13:30 12 January 2010 . must be accounted for. it’s essential that future researchers consider a number of voices and perspectives when examining the delinquent event. In such settings. including those of the actors involved in the original event in addition to journalists and other meaning constructors. as a consequence of his age.Understanding Adolescent Property Crime 607 Understanding the adolescent’s perspective is crucial if we are to gain a more balanced view of the delinquent event. race=ethnicity. Doing so would entail conducting multiple interviews with actors. This is essential given that the adolescent offender. despite its concrete aspects. talking to lawyers and judges. Thus. Hence. reading police reports and court transcripts. is not often afforded such opportunities. and the ‘‘stigma movie’’ is necessary in order to understand the multi-layered meaning construction process. In sum. because of their supposed nonjudgmental nature. Nevertheless. Although this process initially seems best suited for highly publicized deviant events. in part. the adolescent’s voice is valued and he is allowed to speak for himself. gender. the current study represents an attempt to provide such a platform. the current study utilized a symbolic interactionist= cultural studies framework to further understand why and how adolescents commit property crimes. In short. Social science interviews. to any delinquent event for which the offender has been caught. Stated another way. with an emphasis on understanding how this process leads to the deviance label and the distancing of society from those who engage in deviant acts. This process would allow the researcher to gain access to various viewpoints and ultimately be able to understand the delinquent event at multiple levels of meaning construction. media reconstruction. Dotter’s (2004) use of the ‘‘meaning scenario’’ as a way of describing and critiquing mediated meaning-generation processes represents one avenue for engaging in such work. and perhaps. offer one stage upon which the individual can share his story without threat of repercussion. to share his interpretations of the delinquent event. cannot be understood from one view alone. multiple perspectives. and reading existing newspaper accounts. Dotter proposes that an examination of the links between deviant events.
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