Juvenile Justice Theories

Choice Theory

youth will engage in delinquent and criminal behavior after weighing the consequences and benefits of their actions.

Trait Theory

youths engage in delinquent or criminal behavior due to aberrant physical or psychological traits that govern behavioral choices. actions are impulsive or instinctual rather an rational choices

Routine Activities Theory

view that crime is a normal function of the routine activities of modern living. offenses can be expected if there is motivated offender and a suitable target that is not protected by capable guardians

general deterrence

crime control policies that focus on the fear of criminal penalties

specific deterrence

actually locking up the offenders

biosocial theory

view that both thoughts and behavior have biological and social bases

psychodynamic theory

human personality is controlled by unconscious mental processes developed early in childhood

attachment theory

ability to have an emotional bond to another person has important lasting psychological implications for normal development from childhood into adulthood


study of observable behavior rather than unconscious processes; focuses on particular stimuli and responses to them

social learning theory

view that behavior is modeled through observation, either directly through intimate contact with others or indirectly through media.

cognitive theory

studies the perception of reality and the mental processes required to understand the world we live in

nature theory

intelligence is inherited and is a function of genetic makeup

nurture theory

intelligence is determined by environmental stimulation and socialization

social structure theories

theories that suggest that social and economic forces operating in deteriorated lower-class areas, including disorganization, stress, and cultural deviance, push residents into criminal behavior patterns

social disorganization

neighborhood or area marked by culture conflict, lack of cohesiveness, a transient population, and insufficient social organizations.

social control

ability of social institutions to influence human behavior


condition caused by the failure to achieve one's social goals


normlessness produced by rapidly shifting moral values; when personal goals cannot be achieved using available means

general strain theory

links delinquency to the strain of being locked out of the economic mainstream, which creates anger and frustration that lead to delinquent acts

cultural deviance theory

links delinquent acts to the formation of independent subcultures with a unique set of values that clash with the mainstream culture

culture conflict

when the values of a subculture clash with those of the dominant culture


the process of learning the values and norms of the society or the subculture to which the individual belongs

social learning theories

posit that delinquency is learned through close relationships with others; children are born good and learn to be bad from others

differential association theory

asserts that criminal behavior is learned primarily in interpersonal groups and that youths will become delinquent if the reward outweighs the risk

social control theories

posit that delinquency results from a weakened commitment to the major social institutions (family, peers, school) lack of commitment allows youth to exercise antisocial behavioral choices

social bond

ties a person to the institutions and processes of society; elements of the bond include attachment commitment, involvement and belief

labeling theory

posits that society creates deviance through a system of social control agencies that designate (or label) certain individuals as delinquent, thereby stigmatizing them and encouraging them to accept this negative personal identity


the process by which a person who has been negatively labeled accepts the label as a personal role or identity

critical theory

view that intergroup conflict, born out of the unequal distribution of wealth and power, is the root cause of delinquency

restorative justice

non punitive strategies for dealing with juvenile offenders that make the justice system a healing process rather than a punishment process

developmental theory

view that criminality is a dynamic process, influcenced by social experiences as well as individual characteristics

life course theory

a developmental theory that focuses on changes in behavior as people travel along the path of life and how these changes affect crime and delinquency

latent trait theory

view that delinquent behavior is controlled by a "master trait" present at birth or soon after, that remains stable and unchanging throughout a persons lifetime

trajectory theory

view that there are multiple independent paths to a delinquent career and that there are different types and classes of offenders

covert pathway

pathway to a delinquent career that begins with a minor underhanded behavior, leads to property damage, and eventually escalates to more serious forms of theft and fraud

overt pathway

pathway to a delinquent career that begins with minor aggression, leads to physical fighting, and eventually escalates to violent delinquency

authority conflict pathway

pathway to delinquency deviance that begins at an early age with stubborn behavior and leads to defiance and then to authority avoidance