Juvenile Delinquency and Racism

What triggers an adolescent to indulge in a crime, offence, assault, law breaking attitude, or delinquency? There are several underlying causes of delinquency and racism is one among them. Racism is present in every society to some degree but its control is important because it can have widespread negative influence.

The term race and the division of human beings into races began in the 17th century. During this time the Europeans started distinguishing human beings into races based on skin color and physical attributes. Later, it was adopted as a division between people belonging from different parts of the continent. In the early twentieth century when the term racism emerged people became more cautious with the use of the term race. Today there are many other words that have replaced race like ethnicity, population, communities etc.

Racism is a judgement, attitude, perception, association, or segregation of a specific race on the bases of some stereotype. The perception of a stereotype regarding a specific race can initiate some negative actions from a racist person. These negative actions can make a racist person engage in any of the following towards a person of color.

  • disrespectful behavior
  • inequality
  • minor offence
  • major criminal engagement

There are many other ways in which a racist attitude from an individual or society can make the life of the victims difficult. As a result of these discrimination the victim develops negativity. Obviously, this negativity needs some outlet and it leads to delinquency in adolescents.

Types of racism

There are several ways in which racism is seen in our society. The structural racism is the most common one and it gives rise to many other types of racism. For example, personal, inter-personal, institutional, and economic racism emerge from structural racism.

Structural racism

Structural racism is the most powerful form of racism. It is quite evident that it is present in every form in the american and other western societies. All other forms of racism emerge from this form of racism. This type of racism brings inequality among races in the distribution of power, opportunities, treatment, access, freedom of opinion and practices.

Structural racism give rise to demographic racism, social, interpersonal and personal, and institutional racism. In other words, we can say that it encompass all of these types of racism.

In our society structural racism is one big reason for juvenile delinquency, offences, and other minor crimes. It separates individual who are less privileged in the society from the privileged ones. As a result of this disparity the victims of racism develop anger, frustration, negativity and aggression towards society. Unless we treat this structural disparity in our society we cannot cure the criminal attitude in the young people who belong from less privileged races.

Personal racism

Personal biases and racism emerge from structural racism. Though structural racism has widespread influence on the society, individual racism can lead to more deep impact on a person’s life. It inculcate deep wound on a person’s feelings and can make the victim hostile, aggressive and ready to take revenge.

How racism causes delinquency

We live in a society where racism is common based on some demographic, social, or individual factor. Recent researches prove that racism and discrimination leads a path to delinquency. Therefore it is obvious that the justice system should take into account the racial disparity while dealing with the juvenile crimes.

While past researches focused on the characteristic traits of the minorities like black adolescents that leads them to criminal attitude what psychologists and investigators are studying today is different. For example, today investigators believe that most of the African Americans have learnt to live in a society where they are segregated by race from the white supremacists. This has lead to Afro-American adolescents to better survive in the society. Also if they were unable to learn this we would have seen the exhibition of much more hostility and criminal behavior from them.

Following is an analyses of some reasons why racism triggers delinquency in adolescents.

Racial isolation

Isolation of individuals in different races on the bases of some common characteristics itself creates several problems. For example, this isolation give way to stereotypes and negative perceptions about a specific race. One can say that a specific race is white or black but saying that a specific race has more people with criminal behavior can develop stereotypes. These type of stereotypes produce racist people. In today’s world there are more crimes committed on the bases of hatred, racism, bigotry, and oppression than based on other reasons.

Racial stratification

Stratification imposes cultural and societal constraints on the life of the victims. In early studies of the Afro-american teenagers’ criminal behavior this was something least taken into account. On the other hand, the investigators believed that it is personal racial traits that make black teenagers engage in more criminal activities than the white adolescents. But today we know that structural constraints can make a person hostile towards society. As a result of this hostility the victim can indulge in a criminal behavior.

School drop out

Racism leads to more drop outs from schools in early age than due to any other reason. School drop out means no education and that also means no source for guidance. Obviously, when adolescents leave schools they get involved in unhealthy activities, they meet other people who have left school. Most of these people get engaged in negative activities and happily adapt to gangs and cliques.

Association with delinquent adolescents

A victim of racism will find outlet to express anger and frustration that is bubbling due to the negative attitude of the society. Obviously, other victims of racism and hatred come to rescue such person and provide him an outlet to express his negativity. This can worsen the situation and lead to a persons association with criminal world.


  • Burt, Callie Harbin et al. “Racial Discrimination, Ethnic-Racial Socialization, and Crime: A Micro-sociological Model of Risk and Resilience.” American sociological review vol. 77,4 (2012): 648-677. doi:10.1177/0003122412448648
  • Martin, Monica J et al. “The Enduring Significance of Racism: Discrimination and Delinquency Among Black American Youth.” Journal of research on adolescence : the official journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence vol. 21,3 (2011): 662-676. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00699.x
  • Michael Tonry, The Social, Psychological, and Political Causes of Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System, 39 CRIME & JUST. 273 (2010), available at https://scholarship.law.umn.edu/ faculty_articles/502.
  • Race and crime. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_crime
  • Unnever, J. D., Cullen, F. T., & Barnes, J. C. (2017). Racial Discrimination and Pathways to Delinquency: Testing a Theory of African American Offending. Race and Justice7(4), 350–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/2153368716658768



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