Assessing Juvenile Delinquency in Trinidad and Tobago
using Subcultural Theories
Diane S Lewis
University of the West Indies
Devin Mills, a student I privately tutored, was gunned down while walking in Deigo Martin in January 2011, newspaper reports portrayed him as a typical lower-class male who got caught up in the wrong things and believed his murder was gang-related. I did not understand why everyone viewed him as such because to me, Devin was a sincere and compassionate young man who was trying to make the best out of his circumstances in life. This unfortunate event inspired my interest in juvenile delinquency and how it relates to gangs. As a result, this paper will assess juvenile delinquency using subcultural theories with specific reference made to Trinidad and Tobago, (i.e. statistics, examples and references). The terms ‘gang’ and ‘subculture’ are used interchangeably in this essay since both hold the same meaning with respect to the subcultural theories.
Assessing Juvenile Delinquency Using Subcultural Theories
In a number of Caribbean countries including Trinidad and Tobago, the proportion of violent crimes committed by juveniles has been increasing. This problem is also reflected in the growing concern with school violence (Jules , 2006). In an article found in the Newsday, Minister of National Security, Brig John Sandy, stated that from two thousand and nine to two thousand and ten there has been an escalation of youth crime, with police figures showing that persons under the age of eighteen had committed nine hundred and thirty three serious crimes (Douglas , 2011). Juvenile delinquency refers to the participation in illegal behaviour by a minor who falls under the statutory age limit (Siegel & Welsh, 2011). The Children Amendment Act (2000) in Trinidad and Tobago defines a child or minor as anyone under the age of eighteen. It also refers to a “young person” or a “youth” as a child over the age of fourteen but under the age of eighteen. In the same article aforementioned, Minister Sandy also attributed youth crime on a growth in criminal gangs (Douglas , 2011). Sixty-three per cent of homicides in Trinidad and Tobago were attributed to gang members (Katz & Fox, 2010). Theoretically there are several sociological explanations for juvenile delinquency. However, theories of youth culture and subculture have provided the best explanations for juvenile delinquency as a result of the growth of criminal gangs. The subcultural theories which can be used to assess juvenile delinquency in Trinidad and Tobago are Cohen’s Subculture of Delinquency theory, Cloward’s and Ohlin’s Differential Opportunity theory, and Miller’s Lower-class Focal Concerns theory. Cohen (1955) adapted Merton’s theory to explain juvenile gangs, proposing that delinquent behaviour is most common among the lower-class, and that gang delinquency is its most common form. Like Merton, Cohen believed that judging the lower-class boy by middle-class values results in frustration. The lower-class boys are expected to have the same goals and values as the middle-class, hence they strive to achieve these goals. However this results in strain or frustration since they are not sufficiently socialized to achieve these goals, nor do they possess the traditional means of attaining these goals. Thus, delinquency results from not being able to live up to and achieve middle-class goals. Cohen believes these juveniles with the same frustration group together and form subcultures (or gangs) that invert middle-class values, therefore allowing them to seek status in other ways. The formation of gangs or subcultures is an example of Merton’s adaptation mode rebellion. In these subcultures they may create achievable values and goals of their own which are usually in contrast with those of the society in general. Cohen’s theory also attempted to explain gang formation, something for which it is well respected. He argued that there are...
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