Explain why choice theories of delinquency have regained prominence as a theoretical approach to the study and control of delinquency.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Choice theories of juvenile delinquency have become more prominent in recent times largely because they resonate more clearly with American attitudes about crime and about human behavior.

Choice theory, as its name implies, argues that juveniles engage in delinquent acts because they consciously choose to do so.  Juveniles, this theory holds, weigh the potential benefits and potential costs of their actions.  When they decide that the potential benefits of a course of action are greater than the potential costs, they take that course of action.  Thus, for example, a teen might decide to steal from a store because A) he values the goods he can steal, B) he thinks that stealing will make him look cool to his peer group, and C) because he does not think that the punishment will be very bad even if he does get caught.

This sort of theory is attractive to Americans because it resonates with our attitudes.  We think that people are responsible for their own actions.  We tend to think that theories that blame things like poverty and discrimination for crimes are simply a way of absolving people of their duty to make choices.  In addition, it is important to us to believe that our country is just and that it provides equal opportunities for all.  It is harder to believe in this if we think that some people are pushed towards crime by their circumstances.  If that were the case, there might be something fundamentally unjust about our society.  For these reasons, we tend to reject other kinds of theories and we tend to accept choice theories of delinquency.

Choice theories are also attractive because they seem to account for reality better than other theories.  For example, if we say that poverty and discrimination push people towards crime, we still have to account for the fact that many poor people who suffer from discrimination do not become delinquent and many delinquents are not poor or from minority groups.  Therefore, it seems more logical to say that people simply choose whether to be delinquent.

For these reasons, choice theories have become more prominent in the US today.

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