Religion in Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency

The problem of juvenile delinquency and crime is attributed with a crucial significance nowadays because of the increase of its rates in all the countries of the world. Scientists and criminologists try to solve this problem by looking for some ways to stop the growth of juvenile delinquency besides criminal cases, lawsuits, and terms in penitentiaries and prisons. One of the ways they have found to solve the problem is religion. The point is that religion, whatever it is, can influence people positively and prevent them from committing a crime. As far as the issue of juvenile delinquency has been present in the lives of human beings for a long period, it has been studied with the proper thoroughness and attention of scholars and criminologists. The role of religion in the prevention and correction of juvenile delinquency and crime has also been examined in criminal science and represented in numerous scholarly articles and papers.

The results of the research carried out by different scientists in the field of juvenile delinquency and religion can be differentiated according to their field of study and direction, as well as according to their attitudes towards the connection between religion and juvenile delinquency. For example, Benda and Crowyn (2001) found out that there is a strong connection between the two phenomena, namely the level of delinquency and religion. According to their studies, the majority of juveniles who were involved in some kind of delinquency before they found religion gave up crime after some time of being in church. This means that the majority of the most serious offenses that can be classified as juvenile delinquency can be reduced by adjusting the juveniles or other young people to either religion they prefer. Benda and Crown carried out certain experiments during which several young people were interviewed to find out their attitude towards breaking the law and religion. One of the questions was if these people have ever participated in unlawful actions. Most interviewed answered affirmatively and added that the major reason for it was their conflict with parents and trying to attract the attention of the society and parents at least in this way. But, the same youngsters said that they gave up the commission of crimes after they understood the essence of religion and tried to follow the most important commandments.

The study carried out by Evans in 1995 examined another layer of the society that is also concerned with the problem of juvenile delinquency. Evans’ research was conducted among the students of a school in the Northwest of the USA. The main method of the research was a self-report that students made answering the questions about delinquency and how they were influenced by religion. Another field of interest for the research was the religiousness of those people and their relationships with their parents, relatives, and friends as possible causes for delinquency. The answers gave results that did not surprise the scholars. Almost all kinds of juvenile offenses, including fight, gang fight, and others were considered and it was reported that the number of these offenses decreased after the students took up religion. They answered that as soon as they started to attend church on the regular basis, their wish or even need for a crime commission has disappeared. This happened not only because religion proclaims the ideas of peace and love, but also because it promotes improvements in the relations with the people around them, i. e. their parents and friends.

At the same time, another important problem of juvenile delinquency was studied. Benda and Crowyn touched upon the issue of the difference between religiousness and evangelism. This thing is so significant for the topic of this paper because nowadays the practice of attending churches on weekends or regularly is being gradually forgotten. Evangelism, on the contrary, is developing as a way of day-to-day speaking about religion and being concerned about its matters. Benda and Crowyn studied the point and concluded that delinquency can be lowered if people get interested in religion so much that they even start defending it among their peers in usual everyday talks.

Certain part scholars that bare concerned with the issue of racism as the one connected with juvenile delinquency, like Johnson, etc., have studied the role of religion in the black communities of the American inner cities, or ghettoes. The research conducted by Johnson (2000) aimed at identifying the connection between crime and religion for African-Americans from disadvantaged families. The research resulted in the following findings: the more young males and females in the inner cities took up religion and attended black churches, the lower was the level of juvenile crime in the area. Drug use and drug trafficking in the studied areas also decreased by the absorption of the inner city’s youth into their religion and understanding its principles (Freeman, 1985). Johnson concluded in his article about the results of this study that in the black community religion could be considered the main factor that stops juvenile delinquency and prevents from involving new participants into the life of crime. Another basic conclusion of Johnson’s study is that religion and participation in religious ceremonies and church and social activities reduce crime and can be developed as a powerful means of controlling the behavior of youth and the community on the whole. And although the research was carried out exclusively among the African-Americans living in the inner cities, its result can be applied to all the youth from urban areas because the culture they live in is different but the problems they face are the same.

Other studies by Johnson, Jang, and Larson (2000, 2001) showed how the issue of age and social status was important for the commission of crimes by juveniles and adolescents. The authors examined the importance of age for the impact of religion upon the youth in urban areas and found out that adolescents were mostly influenced by religion and their participation in religious activities reduces the rate of crime commission among them. At the same time, the religious influences on the older juveniles were limited by their character that had already been formed and by their deep involvement in the life of crime. Therefore, Johnson and his colleagues Jang and Larson state that for juveniles it is not enough to talk about religion. The only religious means that can prevent them from the commission of a crime and direct attention to the socially useful work is their active and direct participation in religious masses and other church activities.

Furthermore, certain scholars failed to find any connection between religion and the reduction of juvenile crime on the whole. Their reports claim that people who commit crimes as juvenile delinquents are not influenced by religion in any way, or only to some extent that does not allow us to say that religion can be an effective antidote against crime commission. Benda (2001) finds out that the religious practices, as well as time, are taken to study the Bible and to pray, can help people who are addicted to alcohol use and have certain problems with the law because of it. But surprisingly, the same measures do not prove to be effective and helpful while one is eager to fight the addiction to drugs. The causes of this phenomenon are not found out by the scholars but the experiments they carried out proved the existence of such a problem.

Hirschi and Stark (1969) in their studies go even further and develop an idea according to which there is no connection between religion and juvenile delinquency, and consequently, no help can be found in religion for those who are trying to reduce the rates of crime committed by adolescents and juveniles. This theory put the beginning to the following research in the topic that continues and no single opinion seems to b found. The authors found out that there is no connection between the two above-mentioned phenomena based on the questionnaires conducted among more than four hundred people who were accused of a juvenile offense or were considered to be potential juvenile delinquents. The questions asked included the religious sphere of the young people’s lives, such as the time they spent praying or the frequency with which they attend churches and participate in the religious activities of their community. Another part of the questions touched upon the family relationships and social contacts of the same people.

The findings of the study gave the authors the right to suppose that it was not religion that prevented juveniles from committing new crimes, but the improvements in their family and social relations made them reconsider their outlook of the world and change their attitudes towards crime commission. The author tries to prove his point of view saying that empirical researches that were conducted by other scholars were not genuinely empirical. They either focused on a single racial or social group and tried to study the role of religion in reducing juvenile offenses in it, or preferred to operate with the data they had got from the research by other authors and not by them themselves. That is why, the truly empirical research conducted by Hirschi in 1969 has claimed to prove the absence of any significant help of religion as a means of fighting and controlling juvenile delinquency, as far as “church attendance is essentially unrelated to delinquency, students who attend church every week are as likely to have committed delinquent acts as students who attend church only rarely or not at all” (p. 211).

The research by Baier (2001) and some other scholars was conducted to clarify the situation and find out why various authors could not agree upon the presence or absence of connection between crime and religion in respect of juvenile delinquency. The authors attempted to find answers to the questions about the direction of the magnitude of religion in its relation to crime, as well as state the reasons why scholars had different opinions about the role of religion in controlling and stopping juvenile delinquency. The basic method of Baier’s empirical study was the comparative analysis of the 60 studies by other scholars who dealt with the issue before him. As the result of his study, Baiser could conclude that religion did play a great role in reducing juvenile crime, especially its most severe kinds like gang fights, muggings, and burglaries. The difference in the opinions of other scientists appeared evident to Baier due to the differences in empirical research and the methodological bases for them.

The issue of morality in connection with crime and violence was also one of the topics studied by scholars in the field of juvenile delinquency. William Bennett (1996) paid a lot of his attention to the decrease in the age of juvenile offenders. His article deals greatly with social problems and reveals the present crisis of society where teenagers have more freedoms and less restriction than ever and are free to use weapons and abuse heavy drugs. These phenomena bring more and more violence to society and religion is seen as a possible saving factor for the youth that has no other stopping point in its actions. Another side of the same problem was examined in the work by Jensen (1998) who considered the factors that make violence usual practice for teenagers and allows them to commit it in their real lives. Jensen singles out mass media, television and entertainment spheres as the main sources of violence promotion in modern society. He also states that the situation will not change until all powers of the society set as their goal religious and moral upbringing of the youth instead of living them one by one with violence on TV.

The issue of the extent to which religion is significant for successful juvenile crime reduction and control was also studied thoroughly in the literature dedicated to the topic of this paper. Works by Pearce and her colleagues (2004) suggest a certain connection existing between the size of the community and the efficiency of the influence of religion upon crime rates reduction. In other words, the smaller the community is, the greater impact religious upbringing and church attendance will have on its members. The role of religion in larger communities is vaguer as control over large groups of youth is harder to implement when this social group is spread over wide areas.

Regnerus (2003) explores the intergenerational aspect of the religious influence upon crime and its control. His study is a comparative analysis of how religious ideas influence adolescent children from both religious and non-religious families. The study is conducted according to the social and gender factor and its results give a clearer view of this aspect of the juvenile delinquency issue, as it states that the impact of religion upon juvenile delinquents is stronger in those families that do not resort to the religious upbringing of their children. Vice versa, the children from religious families became juveniles more often, and this is a form of protest or even rebellion against the ideas that were imposed upon them from early childhood. At the same time, Regnerus points out a gender peculiarity of religious influence saying that girls from religious families became juvenile delinquents more seldom than those from non-religious families, and more seldom boys from both types of families.

Works Cited

Baier, Colin J., Wright, Bradley. If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments: A Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Religion on Crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency February 2001, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p3-21.

Benda, Brent; Corwyn, Robert. Are the Effects of Religion on Crime Mediated, Moderated, and Misrepresented by Inappropriate Measures? Journal of Social Service Research 2001 Vol. 27, pp. 57-86.

Bennett, William J. Body Count: Moral Poverty: And How to win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs. Simon & Schuster: New York 1996

Evans, David. Cullen, Dunaway. Et al. Religion and Crime Reexamined: The Impact of Religion, Secular Controls, and Social Ecology on Adult Criminality. Criminology. May 1995, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p195-224.

Freeman, Richard. “Who Escapes? The Relation of Church Going and Other Background Factors to the Socio-Economic Performance of Black Male Youths from Inner City Poverty Tracts.” National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge, MA 1985.

Jensen, Gary; Rojek, Dean. Delinquency and Youth Crime. Waveland Press: Illinois, 1998.

Johnson, Byron. (2001) The Role of African-American Churches in Reducing Crime Among Black Youth. Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, Center for Civic Innovation, Manhattan Institute. Web.

Johnson, Byron; Jang, Sung; De Li, Spencer. Larson, David. “Does Adolescent Religious Commitment Matter? A Reexamination of the Effects of Religiosity on Delinquency.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency February 2001, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p22-44.

Johnson, Byron; Jang, Sung; De Li, Spencer. Larson, David. Escaping From the Crime of Inner Cities: Church Attendance and Religious Salience Among Disadvantaged Youth. Justice Quarterly. June 2000. Vol. 17 Issue 2; p377-392.

Pearce, Lisa. Haynie, Dana. Intergenerational Religious Dynamics and Adolescent Delinquency. Social Forces. June 2004, Vol. 82 Issue 4, p1553-1572.

Regnerus, Mark. Linked Lives, Faith, and Behavior: Intergenerational Religious Influence on Adolescent Delinquency. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. June 2003, Vol. 42 Issue 2, p189-203.

Smith, Christian; Faris, Robert. Religion and American Adolescent Delinquency, Risk Behaviors and Constructive Social Activities. National Study of Youth & Religion. 2002, No. 1, p 1-68.

Smith, Christian. Theorizing Religious Effects Among American Adolescents. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. March 2003, Vol. 42 Issue 1, p17-30.