The aim of this essay is to discuss, analyse and investigate the reasons which may have caused Len Wade to act illegally and to consider the limitations and usefulness of criminological theories in evaluating his
behaviour. The two main theories which will be
discussed are “self control theory” and “social bond theory” by Travis Hirschi. Also, other criminological literature and approaches will be considered in analysing Len Wade’s offences.
Self control theory is based on the idea that all humans have the desire to commit crime and it is our high or low levels of self control which encourage or restrain us from doing so. Those with low levels of self control are more likely to engage in criminal activity as they are more impulsive and in need of instant gratification. Self control levels are influenced by the quality of parenting received in early years, and by the age of 7 or 8, the child has already acquired their personal level of self control which is unlikely to change. Neglected or abused children are likely to suffer from lower levels of self control than those who are well cared for. Those with low levels of self control are also more likely, in later life, to smoke, drink and use drugs which fill
their needs for instant gratification.
Social bond theory also considered that the propensity to commit crime was in all humans but it was negated and weakened by social bonds which encourage conformity to the law. There are four social bonds; acceptance, commitment, involvement and belief. Acceptance relates to how strong the individual’s personal relationships are with family and friends, the stronger these are the less likely the individual is to commit crime. This could be criticised in that a person strongly bonded to others who may encourage them to commit crime could become more not less likely to do so.
Commitment relates to the time and energy the individual invests in conventional activities within society, if an individual has a good reputation within the community to uphold, they may be less likely to commit an offence. Commitment can be explained by considering a cost-benefit analysis of whether or not to commit an offence; if the costs are too high (loss of job and good reputation) then the individual is less likely to offend. However, if the individual has no job or reputation to uphold, they may feel they have nothing to lose by committing a crime. A criticism of this could be that some may have bad reputations and feel in order to uphold them, they must commit crime. Similarly to the acceptance element, if criminal behaviour is normal within a subsection of society which an individual is part of then behaving in that way to conform to differing social bonds may encourage not deter the individual from acting in a criminal manner.
Involvement is the extent to which the individual is involved with conventional activities within society such as having a job, hobbies or being part of a club. Again, the less engrossed the individual is in
conventional activities, the more likely it is for them to commit an offence. Belief refers to an individual’s inherent respect for authority and their convictions that rules should or should not be followed which
naturally influences their behaviour.
Len Wade’s case is interesting from both these perspectives although neither fully explain his criminality. Firstly, this essay will consider his family life which is key to understanding the reasons behind his behaviour. Len Wade’s father is schizophrenic and his mother, while supportive of him, is naturally distracted and unlikely to give him the
attention he needs, especially as he is the youngest of 5.
The Newcastle Family Study which involved 1000 participants had six indicators of family deprivation; marital problems, parental illness, poor domestic care, social dependence, overcrowding and poor mothering. It could be assumed that at least 3 of the above apply to Len Wade, marital problems caused by his father’s mental illness, parental illness and overcrowding as there were 5 children in an area we may be able to assume was not rich (Grimley Estate). Thus for the purposes of the study, he would be classified as multiply deprived, seven out of ten of these multiply deprived boys went on to be convicted of a crime.
Another study entitled “Disrupted families and delinquency”# found that within a high conflict family, the chances of children becoming criminals was significantly higher than in a family without conflicts. Len Wade’s parents situation could be described as high conflict so again, his chances of becoming an offender are high. Parental conflicts and problems at home were also found to be contributory factors to a child’s later criminality by a study done by Kolbo.#
According to Social Bond theory, good relationships with parents are key to prevent offending by children. Len Wade’s relationship with his father could be said to be difficult and strained due to his father’s
illness and although we do not know enough about his mother, she must have been distracted and under pressure due to his father’s mental health problems so may not have had a strong relationship with Len Wade either.
His only real social bonds seem to be with his peers, who he looks to for the affection and encouragement his parents failed to provide, so although attachment to them may be strong, they have influenced him to
take drugs and behave in a criminal manner. The sole strong attachment Len Wade seems to have is to his friends, indeed, he has even engaged in criminal behaviour with them, and they, like him, are all drug users. Recent studies# have shown that associating with other offenders increases the likelihood of offending and this seems to be the case here.
The lack of a meaningful relationship with Len Wade’s father may well have been a contributing factor to his later having offended. A study by Farrington in 1973# indicated that having a father who does not join in
with his son’s leisure activities greatly increases the later risk of his son offending. Further, the Cambridge study also found that a strong relationship with the father was needed in order to decrease the risk
of offending. Len Wade’s lack of a positive male role model may have contributed to the later offences he committed, as any other male contact may have been from his friends who could not be described as positive
influences in his life.
According to Hirschi’s self control theory, abusive or neglectful parenting increases the likelihood of the child offending in later life as such children have lower levels of self control. Although Len Wade’s
childhood could not be said to be neglectful as such he may have suffered from a lack of attention due to the domestic situation. Indeed, he admits to having “tantrums” and claims to be building a better relationship with his mother now although with regards to self control theory, the damage may have already been done as a child’s level of self control can
be determined by the time the child is 7 or 8. Thus, self control theory implies Len Wade’s levels of self control may be lower than usual and thus he is more likely to commit a crime.
Also, as regards to Len Wade’s family life, poor supervision has been found to be a contributing factor to a child’s later behaviour and it could be said that due to the pressure his mother was under, and the
other children, that Len Wade was not well supervised as a child. Indeed, it could be argued that as he started smoking heroin at 13, this indicates a definite lack of supervision in his adolescence. A study by Stern and Smith# found that poor childhood supervision is the “strongest predictor of offending”. Further, the Youth Lifestyles Study already cited by the Home office also found a correlation between poor supervision
and the propensity to offend later in life.
Other important factors which have influenced Len Wade’s criminality are his friends and his drug addiction; the two seem linked as without his friends he may not have become addicted to drugs and without drugs, he would have to socialise with different people. Indeed, his attachment to his friends who use drugs seems to encourage not discourage him from
criminal behaviour. Considering this from a Social Bond theory perspective, he seems to have no involvement with any conventional activities, his sole method of entertainment involves drugs. Thus, this weakens his
social bonds and increases the likelihood of offending.
Len Wade is not at all engrossed in any conventional leisure activities and when asked why he returned to drug use said there was “nowt else to do”. This again shows a weakening of social bonds but also refers to a
study by Downes# which found that a lack of entertainment or leisure activities increased the chances of young men committing crime. If we
consider Len Wade’s behaviour from a self-control theory perspective, it becomes apparent that his drug use stems from a need for instant gratification which indicates a low self control. Furthermore, his crimes of burglary and assault show an impulsive attitude, and a lack of planning, which again indicate he has low self control.
The use of drugs has been found in the Youth Lifestyles survey previously mentioned, to increase the likelihood of offending by five times for boys between the ages of 12 and 17. Also, the survey found associating
with other drug users increases the risk that the individual will go back to using drugs. Len Wade himself tells us he committed crime only to fund his heroin addiction and indeed it seems that drug use is a major influencing factor in his problems.
Len Wade’s lack of career or academic ambitions suggests both a lack of self control, according to Self-control theory, and a lack of involvement in conventional society, according to Social bonds theory. We do not know enough about whether Len Wade is still at school or has left after GCSE’s. However, considering that he was using heroin at 13 and
seems to have not been well supervised throughout his adolescence, it could be implied that he is not academically minded. He does not seem to have
attempted to conform to society in having a job and thus again, a low level of self control is indicated. .
The negative attitude displayed by Len Wade in looking for a job also reflects on his likely beliefs about the system and following rules. Indeed, whilst in prison, he was said to be abusive to staff which again
shows a disrespect for authority, and according to social bond theory increases his inclination to commit crime.
The main elements of social bond theory; attachment ,commitment, involvement and belief are all to a degree useful in explaining Len Wade’s
behaviour. Attachment seems the most crucial influence, as he seems to have weak bonds with his parents, and a strong attachment to his peers,
evidenced by his committing crime with them, and this has not, as the theory would suggest, weakened the chances of him offending but strengthened them. These peer influences on him are stronger than that of his
parents or his school, thus although according to Social bond theory, his parents influence would usually overshadow that of his friends, in an environment with little support from his parents, his friends
influence is more persuasive than that of his parents.
From a commitment perspective, his lack of employment or social activities which do not involve drugs indicates that he is not investing his time or energy into society. Furthermore, he is not involved in
conventional activities and may find social status amongst his friends rather than from conventional society. Thus, his standing with them increases
when he acts in an illegal way, indeed, this situation could be described as a sub-society or quasi culture in which he has become involved and these behaviours have become the norm. Further, from his time in prison
and problems with his mother, it can be inferred that his belief system does not give much value to conventional rules and the importance of obeying them.
Thus, whilst Social Bond theory goes some way to explaining Len Wade’s behaviour, it fails to address the real cause of the problem which is his heroin addiction. Social Bond theory can explain why he may have developed such an addiction but in order for him to stop offending, he needs to stop taking drugs and associating with friends who do so.
Self control theory also can explain his behaviour in that his lack of self control is illustrated by heavy drug use and the opportunistic impulsive nature of his crimes. The attention which he lacked growing up
may also have caused him to behave in a way that confirms an idea of self control theory; children who have not recieved enough parental care grow to have lower self control. However, self control theory, again cannot fully explain his behaviour; it seems almost circular reasoning to say that because he has low self control he takes drugs which he then
becomes addicted to due to his low self control. Indeed, self control theory cannot explain fully why Len Wade feels he needs to prove himself to his friends or his lack of interest in his future.
In conclusion, although both Self control theory and Social Bond theory by Travis Hirschi can be used to explain Len Wade’s behaviour, neither do so completely and there are limitations in both arguments. Indeed
they could be said to be ipse dixit in nature as they are not fully supported by empirical study. Other studies offer correlational support for the fact that his family life was conflicted which led to him
committing crimes and his lack of ambition which could also be said to contribute to his behaviour. The main influence on Len Wade’s criminality seems to be his addiction to drugs, and if he continues to socialise with the same people it seems unlikely that he will ever become free of this addiction. He claims that his need for money for drugs has fuelled his crimes and so it could be said that without this addiction he may not have committed so many.
Hirschi’s theories seem most useful in explaining why Len Wade was in a situation in which he could become addicted to drugs, and do not address the reasoning behind his crimes fully. Indeed, it seems overly
simplistic to claim that lack of social bonds alone caused Len Wade to commit the burglaries, when other factors such as addiction and lack of money seem more relevant. Overall, it would seem that it is not an inherent part of Len Wade’s personality to commit crime but situational factors which influenced him to do so.
“Social Bond Theory” Travis Hirschi
“Self Control Theory” Travis Hirschi
Stern and Smith, 1997 study
Downes study, 1966
Disrupted Families and Delinquency (Juby and Farrington 2001 BJ Crim
Kolbo et al, 1996
Youth Crime, Findings from Youth Lifestyle Survey, Home office research
Young People and Crime J graham and B Bowling 1995 Home office research
West and Farrington 1973, 57
The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Third Edition
Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, Robert Reiner
An introduction to Criminological Theory, Second Edition
Roger Hopkins Burkes