A study of the extent and forms of school violence and delinquency

The dynamics of race, gender, social class, limited opportunity for employment, poverty and family background among the high risk Secondary School in Trinidad

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2010

20 Pages, Grade: A+




Objectives/Purpose of the Study

Statement of the Problem


Theoretical Explanations

Literature Review/Previous research on delinquency


Reference/ Bibliography


The aims of the study is to understand the real life conditions and experiences of children together with the extent and forms of school violence and in the Secondary Schools in Trinidad among whom the highest incidences of violence have been reported, and if possible to construct an adequate theory about the upsurge in crime in this youthful section of the population using the dynamics of race, gender, social class, limited opportunity for employment, poverty and family background.

Objectives/Purpose of the Study

The objective of the research is to investigate the experiences of students in the Secondary School system in the high risk schools in Trinidad, and to enquire into their perceptions/experiences of the root causes, consequences and outcomes of youth engagement in violence. A further objective is to propose policies and recommendations to address the root problems of school violence and delinquency exposed by the research to reduce the levels of crime and violence in the high risk schools. In addition to recommend polices/ strategies to strengthening student protection, school staff, families and the community as a whole.

Statement of the Problem

The increase in criminal behavior among the Secondary School population in Trinidad and Tobago has been of national concern for some time. Reports of serious crime – murder, attack with a weapon, rape, larceny, kidnapping - allegedly committed by school students and reported in the press, have given rise to great concern and stimulated resultant explanations from lay persons and policy makers alike. The reasons for and the appropriate methods of dealing with this relatively new phenomenon in the Trinidad context, have abounded and are discussed in various public fora.



According to a definition provided by the World Health Organization, violence is: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation”.

Crime is defined as behaviour which is in violation of the law. It is behaviour which is punishable by law, though not necessarily punished (Braithwaite, 1979). In turn, violent crime has been defined as any act which causes a physical or a psychological wound or damage and which is against the law (Vederschueren, 1996, cited in Moser 2002).

Delinquency, or juvenile crime, means crime committed by people who have not yet attained adulthood. The Pan American Health Organization (1994) and the World Health Organization define adolescence as the period between 10 and 19 years of age, and youth as the period between 15 and 24 years. The World Bank defines “at risk youth” as those who face environmental, social and family condition that hinder their personal development and their successful integration into the economy and the society. Juvenile delinquency in its simplest term refers to the antisocial or illegal behavior by children or adolescents. A Juvenile Delinquent is one who repeatedly commits crime.

Youth Violence, which has traditionally been regarded as an issue of criminal and social pathology, is now, because of the high social and economic costs associated with crime, widely recognised as a macro-economic problem (Ayres 1998), and as a phenomenon which is often determined and caused by economic factors. The causes of crime are diverse and complex. Criminologists, in explaining the correlates and causes of crime, consider factors as varied as age, gender, race, poverty, environment, family background, crime reduction policies and strategies, and economic factors (Wilson and Petersilia, 1995).

A rough survey of the vast majority of explanations of the apparent upsurge in youth crime and violent behaviour in Trinidad, attribute blame to the determinants of poverty, family, social class, gender, race, age and changes in the morals and values in the society, which is associated with a decline in moral education through religion, or with the relaxation of adequate punishment systems for children, from an early age, for engaging in socially unacceptable behaviours. This is understood as occurring in the home as well as in the school system. Youth crime has specifically been addressed by Cloward and Ohlin.

Cloward and Ohlin (1984)[1] inherit the consensus notions of Merton in concluding that there is an all embracing cultural goal – monetary success - with two types of institutional means available for its achievement – the legitimate and the illegitimate. The legitimate is available in organized, respectable society; the illegitimate in the organized slum. Two distinct social organizations exist, each with its own ecological base, but sharing the same cultural goals. However, in the disorganized slum, both legitimate and illegitimate opportunities and ‘culture’ are absent.

Cohen argues in that delinquent cultures are the product of the conflict between working and middle class cultures; yet there is internalization of middle class norms of success by working class youth. This causes status frustration, reaction formation and a collective revolt against the standards which they are unable to achieve. The delinquent sub culture is thus “malicious, short-term, hedonistic, non-utilitarian and negativistic”.

Critics of these explanations, such as Taylor, Walton and Young, have largely advanced the critical and the neo-Marxist schools of thought which have produced a large body of work on this area. Taylor notes that in the case of Cohen’s adolescents, it is more likely that what has occurred is a realistic disengagement from the success goals of the school, because of a lack of tangible opportunities and inappropriate cultural skills and a focus on their expressive aspirations of leisure pursuits. He saw that the central problems were the institutionalization of inequality/poverty and the institutionalization of racism.

In the Caribbean context, one example of this critical approach to explanation can be found in the work of Ken Pryce who states that; “the orthodox viewpoint is that crime in developing countries is the product of social change, the manifestation in these societies of a transition from a traditional to a modern stage of development… this endangers imbalances such as overcrowding, alienation and anomie in the city”

Pryce advances a contrary view and purports that the rising crime in developing societies is not a product of modernization per se but a symptom of a particular type of development based on exploitation and “the development of under-development” such as is evidenced in the Capitalist societies of the Caribbean for the past decades. He suggests that the profit-centered pattern of development enriches a few and disposes the many, through unemployment, …which in turn leads to a diversity of survival strategies based on pimping, hustling, pushing, scrunting, prostitution, violence and wretchedness.

Some research work has already been undertaken in this area in Trinidad and Tobago. Judith Martin (1997)[2] found that family structure of the student was an indicator of social class in that students from nuclear family backgrounds were more likely to be also in the higher income groups, while single parent families were poorer. She found that delinquent students from secondary schools were more likely to be from single parent households.

Deoseran (2007)[3] also noted that 75% of students in the JSS were from poor and single parent backgrounds and that the JSS accumulates children of poor parentage and experiences. Thompson-Ayhe observed an increased involvement of children in crime, both as perpetrators and victims, while Deoseran noted that JSS students committed crimes of violence as against property crimes, the latter with higher rates among the non-poor. He also noted that there was such widespread concern with youth violence that governments were adopting new social policies to address this problem.

Theoretical Explanations

Theoretically, in sociological explanation, scholars are influenced by the large body of work on youth crime and delinquency which attribute such behaviours to a number of theories and research. For the purpose of this proposal the author uses Strain Theory which is deemed applicable in accomplishing the afore-mentioned objectives however, strain theory in not sufficient in explain delinquency behaviour.

Strain Theories[4] argue that delinquency results from the blockage of goal seeking behaviour. The inability to achieve value goals results in the individual becoming frustrated and may turn to delinquency as a result. The theory argued that adolescents are compelled to remain in certain environment, such as family and school. If these environments are painful there is little the adolescents can do to escape this situation. This can have a major impact on delinquency. The revised Strain theory argues that a major negative effect/ relationship leads to delinquency, and frustration may lead to illegal escape attempts or anger based delinquency. They explain delinquency in terms of individual’s social relationships- that leads to delinquency. They focused on negative relationships with others, relationships which prevent the individual from achieving positive valued goals. Strain theory argues that adolescents are pressured into delinquency by the negative affective states most notable anger and related emotions that results from negative relations. The major types of strain that influence delinquent behaviour include: strain as a failure to achieve positive valued goals, strain as the removal of positive valued stimuli from the individual and strain as the presentation of negative stimuli. The general strain theory build specifies the relationship between strain and delinquency, pointing out that strain is likely to have a cumulative effect on delinquency.[5]

Strain theory is based on the idea that delinquency results when individuals are unable to achieve their goals through legitimate channels. In such cases, individuals may turn to illegitimate channels of goal achievement or strike out at the source of their frustration in anger. It is not surprising that strain theory has had a major impact on delinquency research and public policy. Recent research, how- ever, has been critical of strain theory or, at best, has provided only mixed support for the theory. This has led a number of researchers to call for either the abandonment or revision of strain theory (Elliott et al.; Hirschi; Kornhauser)[6]. Current strain theories are dominated by Merton, Cohen (a), and Cloward and Ohlin. While these theories differ from one another in many important ways, they all attribute delinquency to the inability of adolescents to achieve conventional goals through legitimate channels.


[1] Cloward & J. Ohlin, Delinquency and Opportunity: a theory of delinquent gangs. Brown company publishers, 1984

[2] Judith Martin, ‘A Social Psychological Assessment of the JSS in Trinidad and Tobago’ in Caribbean Journal of Criminology and Social Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 1&2, R. Deoseran (ed) Ansa McAl Psychological Research Centre, 1997.

[3] R. Deoseran, Crime Delinquency and Justice: A Caribbean Reader. Randle, Kingston, 2007

[4] Agnew, Robert. “A Revised Strain Theory of Delinquency”, the University of North Carolina Press, Vol. 64. No. 1 (Sep. 1985) pp 151-167.

[5] Agnew, Robert. “Foundation for a General Strain Theory of Crime and Delinquency”, Criminology, 30: 1, (1992).

[6] Elliott, D., S. Ageton, and R. Canter, "An Integrated Theoretical Perspective on Delinquent Behaviour." Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency (1979) 16:3-27.

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A study of the extent and forms of school violence and delinquency
The dynamics of race, gender, social class, limited opportunity for employment, poverty and family background among the high risk Secondary School in Trinidad
University of the West Indies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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secondary, school, trinidad
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BSc, MSc Stacy Ramdhan (Author), 2010, A study of the extent and forms of school violence and delinquency, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175784


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