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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Risk Factors for Delinquency

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2015
15 pages

Based on a literature review, this paper discusses a definition of risk factors for delinquent behavior, their theoretical foundation, their domains, and effective, evidence-based programs that address risk factors in each domain.


"Risk factors" are "personal traits, characteristics of the environment, or conditions in the family, school, or community that are linked to youths' likelihood of engaging in delinquency and other problem behaviors" (Murray and Farrington, 2010). Research on risk factors stems from the theoretical perspectives of social learning theory, which emphasizes the importance of learning normative social behaviors in the contexts of families, schools, peers, and communities (Akers, 1973; Bandura, 1977, 1986)); social bond-social control theory (Hirschi, 1969), which argues that the absence of "conventional ties" (bonds) to societal behavioral norms is predictive of delinquency; and social disorganization theory (Shaw and McKay,1942), which is a variation of social bond theory that focuses on external influences of communities that lack predominant social influences toward normative behavior. Risk factors for delinquency are typically categorized in the following domains: individual (a person's biological and psychological traits); peers (norms, activities, and attachments of friends and peer groups); family (behaviors, attachments, values, and behavioral management of parents and family members); school (attachments, social climate, and academic performance); and community (dominant norms and values observed and experienced in neighborhoods). Specific programs that have been successful in countering risk factors in each of these domains are described. 5 tables and 59 references

Date Published: December 1, 2015