The Major Factors

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Though there is no definite way of predicting whether a young adult will become a criminal in their later years of life or even just a few months, there are a number factors that have fair amount empirical evidence backing up as to why someone might become a criminal. For 71% of the top 100 dangerous cities in the United States, violent crimes have dropped in recent years, often within double digits however crime is still a huge problem within our society (Top 100).

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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI, 2018), there were 1,197,704 violent crimes committed nationwide in 2015. This is not taking into account nonviolent or petty crimes, misdemeanors, or even other types of felonies. In this paper, I am going to investigate if there is anything to be done early in someone’s life to prevent them from becoming a criminal or if there is a correlation between someone’s environment and criminality. For further evidence, I will investigate the environment a young adult is raised in as being a major factor to predicting whether one becomes a criminal based on factors including neighborhood, poverty level, education, psychological health, and authority figure involvement.

Why is the crime rate so vastly different with two populations that have such similarities? If you investigate two cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, who have a very similar population (~3,000,000), median income (~48,000), and education achievement (~20.8% with a bachelor’s degree), but vastly different crime rates (City comparison) you have to wonder, why? The crime rate for Los Angeles is 284.1 crimes by year per 100,000 residents in 2011, where Chicago’s is 562.1, which is almost twice as many. The is an astronomical difference for communities that on paper are very similar. The data suggests that Chicago’s crime rate is dropping, (Chapman, 2018) up to 15% in the last year alone and its projected to drop again this year.

But even with all these why are they so vastly different? Is it the fact the Chicago is half the size, (City comparison) meaning there more people per square mile, or is it community involvement in the neighborhoods or is it the weather? The evidence has shown that criminal activity in urban environments especially is connected to substance abuse, behavioral problems, poor health, poorer academic performance and more difficulties with peer relationships than their rural counterparts. Which is fascinating because they both have samples of approximately the same number of encounters with law enforcement (Elgar, Knight, Worrall, & Sherman, 2003). According to Leech (2016), the more involved young adults are in a community the more likely that community will be able to shape the young adult’s future, whether in a positive or negative way.

Young adults tend to be shaped by their peers especially, Mennis and Harris (2011) call this peer contagion. They go on to explain that youths within a 1km radius that exhibit delinquent behavior are more likely to be in a network of people that exhibit the same sort of behavior. And the more they are in this behavior the more likely they will repeat it. The neighborhood that young adults are raised in can have an extreme effect on whether or not they are or become criminally active. Hipps and Yates (2011) explain in their paper that though poverty is a contributor to crime is not a simple cut and dry explanation. The correlation between poverty and crime are composed of many different parts, and with the exception of murder, the neighborhood’s that are more impoverished don’t necessarily have a higher crime rate. Though they explain that some other studies don’t say the same they believe that they are only looking at one variable instead of several. One idea that Hipps and Yates (2011) propose to be a reason that crime is not growing isn’t because these places are particularly better but because they have less suitable marks or things to steal.

Machin, Marie, & Vuji?‡, (2011) speaks to the importance of education in keeping people out of the criminal justice system. Their study shows that though the correlation between the education and criminality is not concrete there is a definite connection. The connection they make is between when someone leaves school and their age, meaning the longer one stays in school and the older they are when they leave, if before graduating, the less likely to be involved with criminal activity. Again, this does not mean that if someone is educated that they will not commit a crime because there are very educated people incarcerated but there is a correlation. The psychological issue with young adult and young adults are vast and sadly under diagnosis (Nikulina, Spatz Wisdom, & Czaja, 2011).

The psychological issues can range from anxiety and depression to substance abuse to attachment disorder. (Elgar, Knight, Worrall, & Sherman, 2003) Anxiety and depression are two of the highest mental illness to contribute to criminal offences in young adults, (Copeland, Miller-Johnson, Keeler, Angold, & Costello, 2007) though to be predictor of crime, particularly violent crime, they are tied with a conduct or substance abuse. After all the testing was done and applied, 20.6% of female crime and 15.3% of male crime are linked to childhood mental disorder. Even though that isn’t saying that all young adults that commit crimes have psychological issue those are huge numbers in the criminal populations.

Copeland, Miller-Johnson, Keeler, Angold, & Costello explain that history substance abuse is only predictor of minor offence arrest as young adults. In their study they suggest that if young adult get the mental health help that they so desperately need that they could benefit not only the mental health fields but also the criminal justice field, both financially and in numbers as well. Not saying that there would be no youth crime because not all criminals have mental disorders, but it could help avert young adults from going down a path of criminality. In Leech’s (2016) paper she explains that prosocial involvement or parental or authority figure involvement in a young adult can have major impact on their life and on criminality, though it could be positive or negative depending on the influence.

The benefits for young adults is best when it is individual attention, like a mentee-mentor relationship. When a mentor is a positive influence it can actually reduce quantity and severity of delinquent behavior. And a negative relationship can have the opposite effect. Young adults with parents that are incarcerated are significantly more likely to be involved in criminal or delinquent behavior.


Although no one thing can ever say that someone will specifically become a criminal, with that being said, there are some obvious correlations between childhood criminality and the neighborhood they grow up in or education they receive or even if they have positive role model in their life, sometimes in very big ways. But never forget just because someone has everything stacked against them, whether it be their neighborhood, their poverty level, their mental health, anything, does not mean they will end up a statistic or part of the criminal justice system, and even if they do, there is always hope.

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The Major Factors. (2019, Mar 13). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from

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