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Gluecks Pioneer in Delinquency Study

By Richard L. Levine

In one of the highest juvenile delinquency areas in Washington, D.C., teachers were asked to send their most anti-social youngsters to a special test center; 179 youngsters reported, and the testing predicted that 21 of them would not become juvenile delinquents.

Eight years later, 20 of these 21 youngsters were in fact non-delinquents.

The test which made predictions of such amazing accuracy was developed at Harvard Law School by a husband-and-wife team, Sheldon Glueck, Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, and Eleanor T. Glueck, research associate in criminology.

The Gluecks have spent more than 30 years in research which has earned them a reputation as the world's leading experts on juvenile delinquency. They have also gained great prominence as criminologists; Professor Glueck has done especially renowned work in criminal law and war crimes.

Heridity vs. Environment

For many years, a heated dispute has raged among sociologists concerning the causes of adult crime and juvenile delinquency. "Environment," claimed some. "Heredity," instead others. The astounding accuracy of the Glueck's prediction charts suggests that both heredity and environment contribute to delinquency.

In brief, their research indicates that certain personality traits which ordinarily would not cause a person to commit illegal acts may be made criminogenic by environmental situations. Not all individuals respond the same way to any given set of conditions, but certain conditions do tend to develop certain personality traits.

For example, a boy with a strong streak of stubbornness has a greater than average chance of becoming a delinquent if his father is an alcoholic and is unacceptable for emulation; this same stubborn youngster, however, would not necessarily be as likely to become a delinquent if his father were not a drinker.

Through a study of 500 juvenile delinquents and 500 matched non-delinquents over many years, the Gluecks established several traits of personality which might result in delinquency when acted upon by certain environmental combinations. In this same study, the Gluecks destroyed a favorite shibboleth of sociologists, the theory of differential association which maintained that boys bemome delinquents through contact with other delinquents.

'Differential Contamination'

The Gluecks have pointed out that "the great majority of boys even in the most criminogenic regions do not become delinquents." Delinquents act the way they do through "differential contamination," or the action of certain environmental factors on youngsters with certain traits. As in a disease, "differential contamination depends not only on exposure to delinquency patterns, but also on the immunity or non-immunity of the particular individual so exposed."

In their studies of delinquency, the Gluecks examined 402 factors for each subject. After intensive comparisons of the delinquents with non-delinquent boys they decided that five factors, all related to the boys' family backgrounds, were the best predictors of delinquency.

The Glueck Social Prediction Chart, probably the most realistic appraisal of the background of delinquency yet made, is based on these factors:

* discipline by father

* supervision by mother

* affection of father for youngster

* affection of mother for youngster

* cohesiveness of the family

Suppose a boy has a father whose discipline is lax, which in the table is defined as "negligent, indifferent, allowing child to do what he likes." Since 59.8 per cent of the juvenile delinquents studied by the Gluecks had fathers whose discipline fitted this description, the boy would be assigned a score of 59.8 on the Social Prediction Table.

To complete the table, the other four factors are totalled. If the score falls between 250 and 299, the likelihood of delinquency is more than even. Scores of over 300 indicate a high likelihood of delinquency.

Testing the Table

In a series of small check-ups on the validity of the table, which has been frequently revised by the Gluecks, it was found that the table properly identified non-delinquents 91.3 per cent of the time compared to approximately 55 per cent accuracy by professional clinicians. Most startling was the fact that out of 350 youngsters checked, nine out of ten "would have been correctly identified at age six as potentially persistent offenders."

There have been two definitive tests of the table, by the Youth Board of New York City and the Maximum Benefits Projects in Washington, D.C. The New York project has been checking the accuracy of the Glueck's charts for 10 years.

It has shown, say the Gluecks, that "the proportion of non-delinquents identified as delinquents is insignificant, and vice versa." The complete data will be published in July.

The results of the Washington test, reported last week, show that 81 per cent of the predicted delinquents had in fact already become delinquents; this study requires three more years of follow-up. On the basis of the two studies, the Gluecks have been able to simplify the original five factors on the cahrt to make it a more practicable instrument for wide use.

Recently, the Gluecks have also learned that their tables, based on Massachusetts delinquents, are meaningful elsewhere. The tables worked just as well in the New York project, which included a high number of non-white population, as they did in the Massachusetts samples, composed mostly of Irish, Italians, Lithuanians and English.

"The fact that this device seems to be working in foreign cultures, in Israel, Japan England, France, shows that there may be casual universals in delinquency," says Mrs. Glueck.

In 1960, the Gluecks had reported that "regardless of ethnic origin, color, religion, intelligence level, residence in urban or rural areas, economic level, or even sex, the predictive cluster is equally potent, not only on American but on Japanese and French samplings."

For the next five years at least, the Gluecks will oversee the setting up of large research projects on delinquency in Tokyo and Rome.


The Gluecks have established as great a reputation in the field of adult criminality as in delinquency. In fact, their interest in delinquency came after they studied adult criminals for 15 years and discovered that 75 per cent of all their adult offenders had a history of juvenile delinquency.

One of their most significant discoveries is that the crime rate declines at about 30 years of age. "All this seems to point to the effect of 'maturation'--a time of slowing up and more effective emotional and physiological integration." Mrs. Glueck suggests.

To test this observation, the Gluecks are now conducting follow-up studies of the delinquents and non-delinquents whom they first tested at age ten to 17.

Practical Results

The Gluecks' research can be of great practical use. For example, one study of 200 soldiers who had committed military offences indicated that 85 per cent of them would have been denied induction on the basis of Glueck chart scores. The treatment of recalcitrant children can hopefully be undertaken even before school to deflect predicted delinquency. Some judges have indicated that the scores might help them in sentencing juvenile offenders.

But, as the Gluecks themselves have pointed out, the tables must be used with caution. They warn that "prediction tables are not to be applied mechanically as a substitute for clinical judgement."

Currently, about 80 per cent of juvenile offenders are repeaters. The proper use of predictive tables could help to identify those youngsters who need intensive treatment; it may help to separate minor offenders from youngsters who are serious delinquents.

George McGrath, Massachusetts Commissioner of Correction, points out that the Gluecks "were able to find the resources to do the very expensive but vital research involved in following-up their subjects working with agencies which very rarely permitted access to their records. They were quite alone in this field for many years."

Officially Sheldon Glueck retires this year from the teaching faculty of the Law School. Yet, few take this retirement seriously, for the momentum of his accomplishments is so great that his influence will continue to be felt. His research, instead of taking some of his time, will now take all of his time, but many students will still consult with him.

Glueck's skill as a teacher has rested upon his ability to translate his and his wife's research into understandable terms that show a deep perception of human nature. Although he will continue his research, the Law School will have to search long to find someone of as much inspiration and imagination in the field of criminal law.

As Felix Frankfurter said: "The Gluecks have not arrived at the Heavenly City of ultimate answers to the question raised by crime. But they have blazed significant trails. They have been the most fruitful workers in this resistant vineyard."

Gluecks' Biographies

The collected works of the Gluecks comprise over 200 titles, several of which are the classic texts in their fields. The best introduction to their work is Delinquents in the Making, which is a non-technical version of Unravelling Juvenile Delinquency. Currently in preparation is Nature and Nurture in Delinquency, a non-technical account of their findings in Paysique and Delinquency and Family Environment and Delinquency.

Sneldon Glueck, who has been at the law school since 1929, is chairman of the Scientific Committee of the International Society of Criminology and a former vice-president of the American Society of Criminology. Currently he is a member of the Supreme Court's Advisory committee on Rules of Criminal Procedure and of the American Bar Association's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. He was the official delegate of the U.S. government to the International Prison Congress in 1930 and 1950. After World War II, he was adviser to Justice Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremburg Trials.

The holder of seven degrees, Glueck in 1961 won the prestigious Isaac Ray Award of the American Psychiatric Association. With Mrs. Glueck, he has won the major awards of the United Prison Association of Massachusetts, the Boston Juvenile Court, the Big Brothers of America, and the American Society of Criminology. Both have honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Harvard and are fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mrs. Glueck is on the Executive Committee of the Judge Baker Guidance Center and the Advisory Editorial Board of the International Journal of Social Psychiatry. She was formerly a member of the Massachusetts State Committee on Action for Mental Health and technical consultant to the White House Conference on Children and Youth. She holds four degrees.

The Gluecks' offices and research center is at 3 Garden Street in Westengard House.

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