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Education and Crime - Crime And Educational Performance

school students hirschi delinquency

Given the multiple mechanisms whereby schools can influence adult life-course outcomes, it is not surprising that researchers repeatedly and consistently have demonstrated that educational performance and commitment are both negatively associated with adolescent delinquency, adult criminality, and incarceration. The more education an individual has the lower the risk of both criminal behavior and penal sanction. The higher the score on standardized cognitive tests, which partially reflect school learning, the lower the risk of criminality. High grade point averages and positive student attitudes toward school also have repeatedly been demonstrated to reduce the likelihood of adolescent delinquency and presumably adult criminality. Youth records of school sanction for student misbehavior, such as expulsion and suspension, are also clearly associated with adult criminality (Laub and Sampson; Gottfredson and Hirschi; Wilson and Herrnstein). These patterns are consistent with various criminological theoretical expectations discussed above. Students who are successful in terms of test score, grade point average, and years of education, are: defined as "bright" and "good" (labeling theory); have generally high degrees of attachment to conventional school activities (control theory); face easier success in pursuit of their ambitions (strain theory); and often are segregated off from students who are disruptive (differential association).

Several important research efforts have documented the relationship between school performance and crime. In 1950, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck published an influential study of delinquency that documented the early onset of delinquent behaviors. Nearly half the delinquent youth had identifiable behavior problems before entering the fourth grade. Individuals who demonstrate early onset of serious identifiable misbehavior are likely to have entered school predisposed to failure as a result of the absence of early childhood family socialization. Even for these students, however, it is likely that schools can serve to either reinforce or dampen their preexisting tendencies for misbehavior. In 1969, Travis Hirschi published a seminal study of delinquency that focused much greater attention on educational behavior than did the earlier study by the Gluecks. Hirschi surveyed over five thousand junior and senior high school students in the San Francisco Bay area. He found systematic evidence that school performance and attachment (as measured by cognitive test scores, grades, and attitudes toward school) each had significant effects on the number of self-reported delinquent acts. Hirschi attributed this pattern of results to variation in the extent to which students formed positive attachments to school authority and activities. In the early 1990s, criminologists John Laub and Robert Sampson extended Hirschi's work, demonstrating that school attitudes and performance (as measured by grades) affect delinquency rates.

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