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Predicting Delinquency


A new weapon in the fight against juvenile delinquency may well emerge from the researches of Sheldon Glueck, Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, and Eleanor T. Glueck, research associate of Criminology, concerning the prediction of juvenile delinquency in young children.

The Gluecks, a well-known husband-and-wife team, have been conducting researches into the nature, causes, and treatment of delinquency for 35 years. In 1950 they published their now famous Social Prediction Table in an epic study on Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency. The Table was intended as a means of predicting the future behavior patterns of children.

Its importance, if valid, is obvious. Instead of the long, expensive, and often tragic program of capture, trial, and imprisonment, criminology could shift its emphasis to the cheaper and less painful patterns of prevention. It could seek to readjust the delinquency-prone before they actually become delinquents.

The Gluecks based their prediction test on a study of 1000 boys, half of them juvenile delinquents and the other half non-delinquents. The research was conducted over a ten-year period, and seemed to dispel many earlier highly regarded theories about juvenile delinquency.

Many experts had believed, for example, that membership in a gang was a primary cause of juvenile delinquency, but the Gluecks discovered that nine-tenths of the delinquents show their earliest anti-social symptoms before the age of eleven, whereas boys do not usually join gangs until they are in their teens.

Many had also believed that delinquents were sickly, underdeveloped neurotics, but the Gluecks found them to be strongly built and as healthy as non-delinquents.

The chief cause of delinquency, the research showed--and the result is now almost universally accepted--stems from unhealthy conditions in the home. On the basis of their findings the Gluecks developed a simple five-factor test to indicate a child's chances of becoming a criminal.

The test includes the following factors: 1) discipline of boy by father; 2) supervision of boy by mother; 3) affection of father for boy; 4) affection of mother for boy; and 5) cohesiveness of family.

Each factor is further subdivided, (such as "lax" discipline, "indifferent" affection, etc.) and scores are given for each subdivision. By determining which subdivisions a boy falls under and adding up the equivalent scores, a total score is obtained which indicates the boy's chances of becoming a delinquent.

There are, of course, many difficulties involved in administering such a test, and it requires a great deal of training to do so accurately. But the results so far have been somewhat encouraging, or at any rate not discouraging.

There has been a certain amount of "retrospective" validation of the Table, i.e., of selecting known criminals and looking back to see whether their early home life would have given them a high score on the Glueck test. In 1952 a study of 100 delinquent Jewish boys in New York State indicated that 91 per cent of the group would have been identified earlier by the Glueck test. And it is indicated that the test applied to different races. Similar tests in Massachusetts and New Jersey also seemed to uphold the Social Prediction Table.

At the present time, two attempts at "prospective" validation are being carried out in New York City and Washington, D.C. Starting in 1943, first grade children in the two cities were rated according to the Table, and are now being closely observed to see if they behave as predicted. Preliminary results are encouraging, though no definitive conclusions can yet be drawn.

If the Prediction Table eventually proves valid, it will have two significant uses: that of detecting potential delinquents, and that of determining which boys who seem wildly out of control are not really potential delinquents, but are merely going through a normal stage in their development. The Table may prove a formidable ally in the fight against delinquency.

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