Parent Education

Parent education is another important factor in the lives of children and a possible predictor of violent compared to nonviolent delinquency. It has been correlated with violence in the family; with offspring violence in numerous studies; and with many precursors of child outcomes including family income, expected schooling, number of books in the house, parental warmth, and the child’s reading and math achievement (Davis-Kean, 2005). Parent education is also associated with academic expectations for children, which influences an array of academic indicators such as reading and standardized achievement scores (e.g., Davis-Kean, 2005). We note that an obvious possible confounding influence—common genetic factors, that influence parent educational attainment and child intellectual abilities, education, and behavior—is not adequately addressed in the literature that reports links between parental education and child outcomes.

Learning Disability

Prevalence estimates of learning disability (LD) in delinquent populations vary widely, though authors seem to agree that the rates are higher than the general population. Finn et al. (1988) found that while their sample of adolescent offenders had a near-average IQ (mean = 95), 9.6% of them were assigned to special education classes to remedy learning disabilities. Rutherford, Bullis, Anderson, and Griller-Clark (2002) examined several studies and estimate that 20% to 60% of youth in correctional institutions have some form of LD. A large sample study conducted in the 1970s reported that adjudicated delinquents had a higher rate of LD of (36.5%) than a nondelinquent comparison group (18.9%) (Broder, Dunivant, Smith, & Sutton, 1981). A small number of comparative studies so far report the same pattern. An Israeli study reports a high frequency of LD (69.6%) among Israeli inmates (Einat & Einat, 2008). They also emphasize that many of these individuals left school early, which may have led to greater criminal behavior. Talbot and Jacobson (2010) write that it is “generally recognised [sic]” that 5-10% of offenders in the United Kingdom have learning disabilities, and they imply that this is a high range (which probably means that their criteria for LD is more stringent). It should be noted that not all studies find that delinquents have a greater prevalence of LD (e.g., Smykla & Willis, 1981).

Authors have proposed several reasons for the association between learning disabilities and delinquency. First, disabled youths may be more impulsive or suggestive, making them more susceptible to delinquency (Mears & Aron, 2003). A recent genetic study suggests shared genetic heritability of reading disability and attention problems (Martin, Levy, Pieka, & Hay, 2006), supporting this trait-based view. Larson (1988) adds that poor social problem solving may provide the causal link between LD and delinquent behavior. She reasons that poor problem solving is likely to generalize to social situations and where it may result in aggressive behavior. A disability may contribute to low grades or failure in school or other frustrations that lead to antisocial behavior. This view is sometimes elaborated through Cohen’s (1955) “middle-class measuring rod” explanation, where youth with learning disabilities are likely to develop a negative self-image, and may seek recognition through friendships with delinquent friends (e.g., Larson, 1988). Mears and Aron (2003) also suggest that disabled children may simply be more likely to be arrested and processed than non-disabled children because they do a worse job concealing their activities or do not react well to processing. Supporting that theory, Broder et al. (1981) found that learning disabled children were not more likely to report committing delinquency but were more likely to be adjudicated once accused. (Larson [1988] later reviewed the early evidence and concluded that the differential treatment hypothesis had largely been refuted, however.)

It is important to note that no clear consensus on the association between LD and offending has emerged in the literature. Some authors argue that the association between learning disabilities and delinquency is spurious, and some studies have found no association. For example, Malmgren, Abbott, and Hawkins (1999) controlled for demographic factors and did not find a significant association between LD and their measures of criminal behavior.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >