The relationship between neutralizations and perceived delinquent labeling on criminal history in young offenders serving community orders

11 December 2008

This study examined the associations between young offenders’ justifications for delinquent behavior, their perceptions of being labeled “delinquent,” and criminal history. Participants were 153 young offenders (aged 14 to 19 years) serving community orders with the New South Wales Department of Juvenile Justice, Australia. They completed a questionnaire that assessed their use of justifications for offending (neutralizations) and their perceptions of being delinquent. More than half of young offenders (53.6%) did not believe that others labeled them as “delinquent”. Those who did believe that others labeled them as “delinquent” (28.8%) self-reported more delinquency and other problem behaviors, but did not a have more serious official criminal history than ‘unlabeled’ offenders. Factor analysis revealed a two-factor structure (minimization and rationalization) for the neutralization items. Neutralization factors were weak predictors of official criminal history, but stronger predictors of self-reported delinquency and other problem behaviors. Age at first court appearance and rationalizations successfully discriminated 66.7% of the young offenders who thought others labeled them as “delinquents”. Findings are discussed with reference to the implications for risk and responsivity principles in the treatment of young offenders.