Sociologist co-authors new book on juvenile delinquency, edits another on violent offenders

November 13, 2007

AMES, Iowa -- Chronic juvenile delinquency often leads to violent offenders. Just ask Matt DeLisi.

An associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University, where he is also director of the criminal justice program, DeLisi worked the third shift in a county jail in Colorado while he was a graduate student. That experience led to his first book, "Career Criminals in Society" (Sage Publications, 2005).

He's now co-author of a new edition of the popular juvenile delinquency textbook "Delinquency in Society" -- joining Robert Regoli, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado; and John Hewitt, professor of criminal justice at Grand Valley State University, on the book. DeLisi and ISU sociology lecturer Pete Conis also co-edited another book that was published in October titled "Violent Offenders." That book features contributions from an international array of experts on violent criminals -- homicide offenders, sex offenders and psychopaths.

The books draw on new interdisciplinary scientific insights on career criminals -- getting contributions from academics in such fields as pediatrics and neuroscience, as well as more traditional sociology. That provides a more comprehensive look at those who turn to crime.

"Historically, when people study juvenile delinquency, they studied 15-,16- and 17-year-olds," DeLisi said. "And now, they're studying people from birth to death -- and linking both pro-social and anti-social behaviors that happen in adolescence, adulthood and even very early in childhood. And so I think it's very exciting to be a criminologist right now because it's just so much more scientifically rigorous and sophisticated than it used to be."

DeLisi says there are two types of juvenile delinquents, defined as those offenders under age 18. About 90 percent are influenced by peers in schools and neighborhoods to commit low-level crime like underage drinking and vandalism. The other group exhibits more pronounced delinquency by committing more serious and regular criminal offenses. That group has drawn the most interest from today's interdisciplinary researchers.

"So if we were looking at a chronic delinquent, the same kind of sociological factors that influence him or her in adolescence are there, but there are also personality factors from psychology that are very important -- like anti-social personalities -- and even biological factors that interact with the environment to produce that behavior," he said.

Even if an individual possesses a genetic risk factor, DeLisi has found that doesn't guarantee a life of crime.

"If you live in a very pro-social neighborhood, have good parents, even if you have a genetic risk factor, you're not going to be involved in crime," he said. "You're insulated because of your socialization. But if you have some of these genetic risk factors and you grew up in a very abusive background, then that's when we see this sort of nature/nurture interaction that produces the misconduct.

"So what we're able to do now in the study of juvenile delinquency is answer that question, 'Why is it that you can have 100 people who had the same family background -- whether it was good or bad -- and yet only some of those kids go on to have delinquent behavior"'," he continued. "And the answer is that those are kids who had genetic risk factors that interacted with those family backgrounds to produce the anti-social conduct."

DeLisi reports about one in three juveniles has police contact before the age of 18. Between six and 10 percent have police contact five or more times. These "chronic" juvenile delinquents may be on the way to becoming the violent offenders DeLisi studied for his second book.

It provides a snapshot of violent offenders. He wrote chapters on the importance of violent offenders to criminology, the socialization of violent offenders, and psychopathy and its relationship and importance to violent offenders -- a chapter he calls "Still Psychopathic After All These Years."

"The point of using that title is that in almost any serious behavioral outcome, psychopathy's very important," DeLisi said. "So whether you're talking about serial killing, sexual offending, prison misconduct, etc., the offenders who are psychopathic are worse than those who are not."

But while there are some common traits to psychopaths, DeLisi says that some of those same traits might also be common in successful leaders. Traits of a psychopathic personality include:DeLisi has found psychopaths separate themselves from others by their lack of empathy and conscience -- usually measured by the amount of callous and non-emotional traits they possess.

"There's a difference between someone who's tough-minded and can make difficult decisions, compared with someone who ignores a person who is lying hurt, or would take delight in hurting other people, or would be unphased by fear," he said. "So the depth of callous and unemotional traits, to me, separates criminals from non-criminals."

And DeLisi has spent his academic life studying and documenting the difference between the two.
-end-
Contact:

Matt DeLisi, Sociology/Criminal Justice Studies, (515) 294-8008, delisi@iastate.edu

Dave Gieseke, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, (515) 294-7742, dgieseke@iastate.edu

Iowa State University

Related Delinquency Articles from Brightsurf:

Child neglect linked to teen pregnancy
Children who experience neglect are seven times more likely than other abuse victims to have a teen pregnancy say University of Queensland researchers.

Decoding how kids get into hacking
New research from Michigan State University identified characteristics and gender-specific behaviors in kids that could lead them to become juvenile hackers.

UTSA study shows vaping is linked to adolescents' propensity for crime
UTSA criminal justice professor Dylan Jackson recently published one of the first studies to explore emerging drug use in the form of adolescent vaping and its association with delinquency among 8th and 10th grade students.

Early exposure to banking influences life-long financial health
Growing up in a community with or without banks has a long-term effect on how you build and manage credit, according to a new Iowa State University study.

Police stops unintentionally increase criminal behavior in black and Latino youths
New research by NYU Steinhardt doctoral candidate Juan Del Toro finds that Black and Latino adolescent boys who are stopped by police report more frequent engagement in delinquent behavior thereafter.

Younger Americans much more likely to be arrested than previous generations
One possible byproduct of the of the nation's zero-tolerance criminal justice policies may be a trend that finds that Americans under the age of 26 are much more likely to be arrested than Americans born in previous decades.

Witnessing violence in high school as bad as being bullied
Over the long term, being a bystander of high-school violence can be as damaging to mental health as being directly bullied, a new study finds.

Can parents of juvenile offenders still dream?
A new study from Michigan State University published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence reveals that mothers don't lose hope for their sons' futures and potential -- even if they are arrested as a minor.

When mentors do this one thing, it can help reduce teen delinquency
When educators and coaches make kids feel like they matter, it reduces delinquency and destructive behavior, according to a study led by a University of Kansas professor.

For girls who mature early, psychological problems last into adulthood
Tracking nearly 8,000 girls from adolescence through their late 20s - far longer than other studies have - a Cornell University researcher says girls who get their periods earlier than peers are likely to experience depression and antisocial behavior well into adulthood.

Read More: Delinquency News and Delinquency Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.