A study of the extent and forms of school violence and delinquency among the high risk Secondary Schools in Trinidad

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2010

33 Pages, Grade: A




Objectives/Purpose of the Study

Problem Definition/Statement of the Problem


Theoretical Explanations

Literature Review/Background


Conclusion and Discussion




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 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.

Problem Definition/ 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 Junior Secondary School (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.

A review of the statistics of the inmates at the Youth Training Centre as at 20th November 2002[4] reveals that the total population of inmates was 158, of which 91 of the young offenders were given approval and 67 of these young offenders were awaiting approval. Details of the offenses include[5]:-

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

A closer analysis of the nature of the offences committed by these 158 young people reveal that almost 62% of them should be diverted to community sentencing/ community- based treatment programmes that provide youth with diverse services. This in effect is a Youth Justice system.

Theoretical Explanations

Strain Theories[6] 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.[7]

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)[8]. 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.

The ecological theory of Shaw and Mc Kay[9] reveals a relationship between the social geography of a city and the situation of the youth offender’s house. They theorists found an underlying pattern of deviant behaviour associated with each of the main sub urban zones of the city. They established that there was a clear increase in frequency of offence the closer the movement to the city centre. They used the records of delinquents, court cases, and police files to confirm their hypothesis.

The status frustration theory of Albert Cohen[10] indicates that some forms of offending can be explained in terms of the failure of certain sections of young people, particularly the lower working class youth, to attain the goals and values which are dominant in the society. These categories of young people become acutely frustrated to find that the attainment of such goals is beyond their reach. The result is a sense of rejection of conventional values and morality.

The delinquency sub- culture theory of Miller[11] argues that offending and deviant behaviour result not so much from a sense of frustration at a failure to attain the goals of society, but much more by chance. It suggests that the life styles and patterns of values which govern the behaviour of the lower class section of youth cause them to fall into trouble as a natural part of day-to-day life which any one living in that section of social life is likely to encounter, since life is full of unavoidable hazards.

The Vacuum theory of Short and Strodbeck[12] holds that offending arises as a result of a kind of vacuum in the lives of young people who lack any structured way of attaining the values considered essential by those in the higher social strata. It further states that the less privileged section of youth fill their time with activities which have no significance or connection with the world of work and citizenship. These pursuits may include search for entertainment, dances, fights and delinquent acts, the kind of behaviour which causes them to be labelled delinquent and most prone to offending.

The defective personality theory of Yablonsky[13] shows that in conditions of poverty and congested urban life, it is often those youths with defective personalities, which make most use of gangs. They form its central core and they may often be severely disturbed and lack the ability to show any emotional response to their victim. The psychology of identity will be guiding these youths to find a place of belonging within the confines of these anti-social and disruptive groupings.

Control theories[14] assume that delinquency acts result when an individual’s bond to society is weak or broken. The bond of the individual to society is not surprisingly form the basis of explanations of most forms of unusual behaviour. The control theory went on to describe the elements of the bond to society in many ways which include; attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Social Control Theory proposes that people's relationships, commitments, values, norms, and beliefs encourage them not to break the law. Without this "control" deviant behaviour would happen more often. More contemporary control theorists such as Michael Jordan suggested that labour market experiences not only affect the attitudes and the "stakes" of individual workers, but can also affect the development of their children's views toward conformity and cause involvement in delinquency. This is still an ongoing study as he has found a significant relationship between parental labour market involvement and children's delinquency.

Hirschi’s social control theory argues that everyone has the potential to be law violating; however, fear deters most people because they do not want to jeopardize the social bonds that they have with others. He presented four social bonds (attachment, commitment, involvement, belief) that show the relationship between criminal acts and he believed that the weaker that these four bonds are the more likely one is to commit deviant behaviours.

The labelling theory of juvenile delinquency deals with the effects of labels, or stigmas, on juvenile behaviour. Labelling theory holds that society places labels on juvenile delinquents, and stigmatizes them, leading to a negative label for a youth to develop into a negative self-image. The court of law, the youth's family and supervisors, and/or the youth's peers give a name - or a "label" - to the youth, often in "degradation ceremonies".[15] Youths who are labelled as "criminals" or "delinquents" may hold these as self-fulfilling prophecies - believing the labels that others assign to them, thereby acting as the labels. Frank Tannenbaum (1938) called this social labelling the "dramatization of evil." He argues that this "transforms the offender's identity from a doer of evil to an evil person." Labels can be applied formally, by social institutions (courts, schools, etc.) or informally, by a youth's acquaintances, peers, and families. These labels can be positive, or negative, and even socializing, but stigmas that hold negative connotations and may negatively affect the juvenile are the main concern of labelling theory.


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

[4] The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago final report of the cabinet appointed task force on Prison Reform and Transformation (2002)

[5] Cited in Deoseran, Crime Delinquency and Justice: A Caribbean Reader. Randle, Kingston, 2007

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

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

[8] 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.

[9] Cited in Shoemaker, Donald J. Theories of Delinquency. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996

[10] Cited in Shoemaker, Donald J. Theories of Delinquency. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996

[11] Ibid

[12] Short, James F. Delinquency, Crime, and Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976

[13] Ibid

[14] Hirschi, Travis, “A control Theory of Delinquency”, causes of delinquency (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969) pp 16-26, copyright © The Regents of the University of California.

[15] Cited in Mustapha, Nasser, Sociology for Caribbean Students, Development and Social change, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston, Miami (2006)

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A study of the extent and forms of school violence and delinquency among the high risk Secondary Schools in Trinidad
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
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secondary, schools, trinidad
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BSc, MSc Stacy Ramdhan (Author), 2010, A study of the extent and forms of school violence and delinquency among the high risk Secondary Schools in Trinidad, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175786


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