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McKenna, Mary --- "Delinquent-Prone Communities by Don Weatherburn and Bronwyn Lind" [2001] AltLawJl 60; (2001) 26(3) Alternative Law Journal 155


Delinquent Prone Communities

Don Weatherburn and Bronwyn Lind; Cambridge University Press, 2001; $211 pp; $95.00 hardcover.

Delinquent-Prone Communities draws together a range of criminological theories and quantitative data in an attempt to expand current theories of delinquency beyond the linking of disadvantage with crime. Weatherburn and Lind set out to achieve this by investigating the effects of social and economic stress on parenting practices. Additionally they sugg.est that appropriate early intervention programs, targeted at reducing disadvantage, are imperative for the reduction of juvenile crime within crime-prone communities.

Delinquent-Prone Communities explores current criminological theories in an attempt to support the authors' hypothesis that crime-prone communities are likely to develop from both economic and social stress because these stresses have a detrimental effect on parenting. Within this context 'economic stress' refers to the individual psychological condition that links offender motivation with poverty while 'social stress' refers to lack of adequate social supports. Following from these parental stresses, 'inadequate parenting' causes young people to be more susceptible to the influence of their delinquent peers (p.3) and so increases the likelihood that they will become involved in crime. This line of thinking seems to follow the increasingly common practice of redefining social problems as individual ones, with responsibility for the problems located firmly within the private sphere of the family and so largely outside the jurisdiction of state responsibility. However, Weatherburn and Lind go to considerable lengths to provide evidence for their claim and, in the final chapter, thoughtfully explore a range of appropriate state responses to the problem. The authors seem aware that the argument could easily degenerate into a stereotypical case of 'parent blaming', with the state absolved of responsibility for the juvenile crime problem. With this in mind it is encouraging to see thoughtful, well researched suggestions for appropriate policy responses to the problem.

The book is structured, broadly, into four sections. The first section looks at theoretical models of criminology, and discusses their practical application. The second section presents empirical research from two Australian States with this research linked to theoretical literature in the third section. The final section discusses possible future directions in crime prevention.

In the first section a range of theoretical models that attempt to explain links between poverty, unemployment and crime are discussed, including strain theory, social opportunity theory and economic theories of crime, with a comprehensive critique of these theories. Following from this a range of studies that explore the effects of social and economic stress on parenting are introduced. Next, evidence is produced to support the link between practices of inadequate parenting and delinquent young people. These early chapters have a heavy emphasis on theoretical models of criminology. There is a complex discussion of the way these models have been used in the past to inform a number of criminological studies that have attempted to explain the links between economic disadvantage and crime. This complex discussion, that is in places rather difficult to follow, may have the effect of deterring the mildly curious reader. However it is worth per­ severing in order to gain an insight into the overall argument presented by the authors.

The presentation style changes in chapter 4 with the findings of a Western Australian study into child health and wellbeing examined to demonstrate a relationship between economic and social stress, crime and parenting. The following chapter presents the results of research by Weatherburn and Lind in New South Wales, attempting to demonstrate a causal connection between neglect and delinquency. This chapter presents the results of large scale research conducted by the authors, suggesting that children who are neglected by their parents, due to social and economic stress are most likely to become susceptible to the influence of delinquent peers. However, the complex presentation of data in this chapter suggests that this discussion should be approached warily. Tables and presented in a complex manner in the interests of thoroughness or with the intention of misleading the reader. The following chapter links to the data, in an attempt to provide broader implications for the research.

Chapter 6 offers a discussion of the anomalies that surface in chapter 4 and 5 detailing an 'epidemic model of offender population growth' (p.l02). This model is used to demonstrate a relationship between parental economic stress and absence of social sup­ ports. On the model, this combination is likely to lead to maltreatment of children which may encourage these children to identify more closely with their delinquent peers leading to criminal involvement. It is also heavy going for those without statistical knowledge, but hang in there ... it gets better!

Chapter 7 discusses theories of crime and place using three theoretical models: social disorganisation theory; theories dealing with public disorder; and criminal opportunity theory (p.l26). These theoretical models are compared with the epidemic model. This chapter draws on these theories to present an interesting and credible account of the spatial distribution of crime using data from both Western Australia and NSW. This is followed by a chapter dedicated to crime prevention policy.

In chapter 8 the authors enter into a relevant and interesting discussion about possible future directions for policy makers in the area of crime prevention. It begins with an investigation of attempts at crime prevention in the United States in particular with a recognition that there are a number of unique social differences in Australia. In this chapter Weatherburn and Lind investigate crime prevention from a number of perspectives. They consider the role of government in reducing economic stress and the role of labour market programs aimed at reducing criminal activity. Additionally they consider the significance of child care, child maintenance, and appropriate intervention pro­ grams for crime prevention. The importance of considering the role of social capital when implementing these policies is also recognised. Ultimately the authors advocate early intervention aimed at the reduction of poverty. Their suggestions include increasing employment opportunities, providing appropriate practical support in the form of affordable quality child care and strengthening of social capital through the provision and maintenance of a comprehensive range of social services at the local level. The authors imply that the substantial economic cost of these measures will ultimately be offset by the development of cohesive communities with a significant reduction in crime.

The authors of Delinquent-Prone Communities have undertaken the ambitious project of linking a range of theoretical material to complex empirical data and drawing policy implications from this mix. Much of the discussion assumes a high level of theoretical and statistical competency. This book is likely to appeal to academics and policy makers with expertise in these areas. However the dedicated critical social research student is also likely to find aspects of it interesting, particularly the final chapter on crime prevention.


Mary McKenna is a higher degree student in Legal Studies at Flinders University.

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