Peer influences

Delinquent acts tend to be committed in small groups (usually of two or three people) rather than alone. Large gangs are comparatively unusual. In the Cambridge Study, the probability of committing offences with others decreased steadily with age. Boys tended to commit their crimes with other boys similar in age and living close by.

The major problem of interpretation is whether young people are more likely to commit offences while they are in groups than while they are alone, or whether the high prevalence of co-offending merely reflects the fact that, whenever young people go out, they tend to go out in groups. Do peers tend to encourage and facilitate offending, or is it just that most kinds of activities out of the home (both delinquent and non-delinquent) tend to be committed in groups? Another possibility is that the commission of offences encourages association with other delinquents, perhaps because 'birds of a feather flock together' or because of the stigmatizing and isolating effects of court appearances and institutionalization. Thornberry et al.(29 in the Rochester Youth Development Study concluded that there were reciprocal effects, with delinquent peers causing delinquency and delinquency causing association with delinquent peers.

Associating with delinquent friends at the age of 14 years was an important independent predictor of convictions at the young adult ages in the Cambridge Study. Also, the recidivists at the age of 19 years who ceased offending differed from those who persisted, in that the desisters were more likely to have stopped going round in a group of male friends. Furthermore, spontaneous comments by the youths indicated that withdrawal from the delinquent peer group was an important influence on ceasing to offend. Therefore, continuing to associate with delinquent friends may be a key factor in determining whether juvenile delinquents persist in offending as young adults or desist.

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