Social Control And Its Relation To Rising Level Of Juvenile Delinquency

Although the term social control has been widely used in numerous scientific fields for a long time, a general definition has not been agreed upon yet among many writers. This is partly due to the fact that the word ‘control’ has different meanings in languages such as French and English. It can mean power, authority as well as supervision and guardianship. In criminology, the term is used when describing the method used to establish order and maintain it in the community. Over the years, many theories regarding social control have been put forward and Edward A. Ross was among the first ones to do so at the end of the 19th century. Indeed, he began developing his theory between 1896 and 1898 when his articles were first published in the American Journal of Sociology. Furthermore, it has also been mentioned that the social control theory of crime is a theory of conformity, which means that society can be controlled using certain norms such as socialisation, persuasion and force. According to recent statistics, the number of crimes among youngsters has risen and it would be interesting to see if when controlling influences are weak, a greater number of crimes, by this particular group, are committed. According to recent statistics, from to 2017 to 2018, the juvenile delinquency rate per 1,000 population has gone up from 5.2 to 5.6. A number of reasons could be invoked to explain this rise but as criminologist, it is important to consider the reasons why the crimes were committed by this certain group of people. Early developments about social control Introduced as early as 1894, the expression ‘social control’ finds its origins in philosophical literary works. As discussed by Robert F. Meier, one of the earliest to mention social control was Edward A. Ross through a series of articles as well as a book which was published in 1901. Using a social-psychological approach, he tried to define social control theory from an individual’s point of view and did not mention the conditions of the groups he was talking about. Despite being in the early days of the subject, the sociologist was able to identify that social control theory also means conformity. He believed that groups were responsible for an individual’s behaviour and that there were 23 different mechanisms that could be used to achieve that.

Furthermore, he mentions that factors such as religion, morals and education could influence an individual and ultimately act as a way of social control. Additionally, shortly after the publication of Edward A. Ross’s book on social control, another American sociologist came forward with another literary work which contains some similarities. Indeed, Charles Cooley voiced his view on the matter and seemed to share a theme with the first author. Both agreed that a primary group is ultimately responsible for social order. Using a parable, he made his ideas clear: “A well-ordered community is like a ship in which each officer and seaman has confidence in his fellows and in the captain, and is well accustomed to do his duty with no more than ordinary grumbling. All hangs together and is subject to reason in the form of long-tried rules of navigation and discipline. Virtue is a system and men do heroic acts as part of the day's work and without self-consciousness. But suppose that the ship goes to pieces-let us say upon an iceberg-then the orderly whole is broken up and officers, seamen, and passengers find themselves struggling miscellaneously in the water. Rational control and the virtue that is habit being gone, each one is thrown back upon his undisciplined impulses. Survival depends not upon wisdom or goodness-as it largely does in a social system-but upon ruthless force, and the best may probably perish.” Thus, Charles Cooley implied that social bonds are essential in order to keep an order within the community. When such bonds cease to exist or are broken, new ones must be created. Other points of view regarding social control Considered as one of the most influential criminologists of the 20th century, Edwin Sutherland came up with the theory of differential association. The latter explains that delinquency is due to the “normative conflict”. This would mean that factors such as race and family status, whether the youngster comes from a broken home or not, would have a direct impact on whether or not the individual is at risk of being a juvenile delinquent. What are the norms existing in society? Considered as the only form of guidance since earlier times, religion still has a major impact on the functioning of modern society. Edward A. Ross defined it as a “conviction of an ideal bond between the members of a society and the feelings that arise in conse- quence of that conviction.” Secondly come the moral norms. Comparable to religious ones, they also affect an individual’s conscience.

For instance, George Gurvitch and Wilbert E. Moore agreed that values, ideals as well as collective spiritual meanings helped shape social control. Lastly, courtesy and good manners are also norms. Despite demonstrating an individual’s nature and integrity, being courteous actually happens when in groups and around other people. In the Mauritian society, several religions co-exist such as Hinduism, Christianism and Muslim. Despite having all of these norms set up in order to regulate how a society gives protection and is considered safe, being religious, moral and courteous towards each other in a community is not sufficient and require an additional element which is law. Social control and law An American legal scholar by the name of Roscoe Pound explored the formal aspect of social control. Indeed, as mentioned by Robert F. Meier, he mixed the points of view from sociologists with his jurisprudential studies. However, instead of implying that social control was imposed by society, he focused his attention on the word ‘control’. He stated that law had an important role to play in social control and that it had to be imposed by the state. Hirchi’s social control theory Furthermore, Travis Hirschi made a considerable impact in the field with his social control theory. His book ‘Causes of Delinquency’, published in 1969, focused more particularly on the theme of delinquency. According to Michael D. Wiatrowski, David B. Griswold and Mary K. Roberts, the sociologist stated that delinquency was inevitable because of the human nature and thus proceeded to explain conformity instead. He identified four main elements that could explain the latter:

  1. Attachment: This would include the relationships that a youngster forms at school, with his/her parents as well as peers. The bond existing between them would allow the youth to better behave socially, as he/she will be influenced by role models.
  2. Commitment: This is based on the fact that a youngster will focus on his achievements, mostly on an educational level, and thus refrain from having a delinquent lifestyle. Examples are working towards good grades so as to go to university. Those who do not have these goals in mind and get involved in activities such as dating and smoking have been shown to be more prone to participate in criminal activities.
  3. Involvement: This is related to commitment and how much a youngster is involved in his life goals. For instance, the amount of time a teenager spends on his studies and posting pictures on social media have a positive and negative influence respectively on his life.
  4. Belief: According to Ross L. Matsueda and Karen Heimer, Hirschi corroborated Sutherland’s views about delinquency when talking about beliefs. Indeed, he agreed that only one moral order exists, the conventional one.

Social control in Mauritius and how it is related to juvenile delinquency According to official statistics, crimes which are most committed in Mauritius by youngsters include road traffic contraventions, assaults and property offences. It is to be noted that numbers regarding juvenile delinquency start at the year 2000 and until 2007, a considerable increase from 1.0 to 4.7 offences, excluding contraventions, per 1,000 mid-year population aged 12 to 17 years was recorded. Thus, it can be observed that, in the past, youngsters were less likely to lead a deviant life. Reprising Hirschi’s four points regarding conformity:


  • Young people were raised more by their extended families, which means grandparents and other elders. This would have helped established a more traditional way of living as well as implement conventional morals which, according to several studies, is a way to keep off from delinquency.
  • Nowadays, it is very common that both parents work as both men and women yearn for a successful career. This could mean that children spend more time by themselves which could create boredom. As their role models have less time for them, they will look for new ones which could be dangerous. Commitment: • Now that we live in the digital age, a youngster’s life goals are very much different than from a few years ago. Although nowadays education is more accessible, there are greater distractions such as social media and dating applications.


  • With gadgets such as smartphones, laptops and tables more easily accessible to the younger generation, more time could be spent using them instead of focusing on any homework assigned.


  • The conventional way of thinking is still very much present in Mauritius.

However, among younger people, it is less likely to have an impact over their behaviour as it has to be imposed on them by either family members, friends or school friends. Younger people can get influenced easily. Conclusion As mentioned above, to further understand social control theory and how it is related to the rising level of juvenile delinquency, one needs to identify what causes conformity. Despite the fact that Travis Hirschi has successfully managed to explain the four aspects of social bond, Michael D. Wiatrowski, David B. Griswold and Mary K. Roberts added that the elements might be, in fact, linked. However, from all the different points of view which have been discussed, from Ross, Cooley and Sutherland, it can be agreed that the most important factors which contribute to juvenile delinquency are peers, school and family. In Mauritius, the upbringing of an individual affects how a youngster perceives and adopts social norms which, in turn, lead to him/her not having a deviant lifestyle.

01 February 2021
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