Youth in conflict with the law: an exploration of socio-criminogenic risk factors
Ashwill Ramon, Phillips
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Criminal Justice in South Africa has endured a period of evolution, having progressed from colonialism to apartheid to democracy. Yet, law violations remain a fundamental challenge in contemporary South Africa. As what could have been seen during the past few years, the sheer number of transgressions committed by and against young people remains problematic, as individuals aged 12 to 22 years form part of a ‘high risk’ age cohort for both contravening the law and for criminal victimisation. As a result, a considerable proportion of the youth populace are pushed to the peripheries of South African society and experience a great degree of marginalisation within various domains, thereby amplifying their risk of coming into conflict with the law. Moreover, a significant number of youth have already been negatively affected by challenges related to socio-economic disadvantage, limited opportunities for conventional success, family conflict and antisocial peer affiliation, while an equally high percentage of youth have been incarcerated for serious transgressions. These youth face numerous complications in terms of both their transition into adulthood, as well as on their journey to become responsible social actors. Accordingly, the current study was aimed at identifying and exploring socio-criminogenic risk factors within the family, school, community and peer group domain through the explanation and synthesis of the Strain, Subculture, Social Control and Social Learning perspectives, in order to gain a greater understanding of the personal experiences and views of detained youth with the ultimate aim of conflict reduction. A qualitative methodological approach was utilised, together with research strategies of an exploratory and descriptive nature. Data was obtained using a purposive sample of 20 youth detained at the Kimberley Youth Development Centre. The findings obtained during the course of the study indicated that a significant proportion of youth in the sample were exposed to several key risk factors conducive to youth misconduct. These factors included antisocial peer affiliation (75%), participation in gang-related activities (65%), community or neighbourhood disorganisation (60%), the use of alcohol and illicit substances (60%) and the experience of socio-economic disadvantage (55%). An evaluation of commonly recurring clusters of risk factors identified gang membership (55%) and the use of alcohol and illicit substances (50%) as the most prominent socio-criminogenic risk factors experienced by the participants in the sample. On the basis of these findings, it is evident that further research pertaining to the criminogenic risk factors for youth misconduct in the South African context is required. With reference to the recommendations in the current study, it is envisaged that the findings will stimulate future research conducted with all-inclusive population-representative samples, which could potentially aid in the identification of universal risk factors experienced by the majority of South African youth in conflict with the law. Research utilising a control group, longitudinal research and research including female youth and those under the age of 18 years, would be particularly valuable in this regard. Furthermore, future research would facilitate the expansion of knowledge regarding criminogenic risk factors for youth misconduct, to contribute to the development of new policies and procedures and/or to the modification of existing policies and intervention programmes, with the reduction of conflict as ultimate aim.
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