Hirsch Travis, in his social bond theory, hypothesized that children’s attachment to their parents reduced the prevalence rate of the children’s involvement in delinquency. This theory however, has been contented and criticized by many today as being very static, narrow and flawed in scope to appropriately apply to modern criminology theories. Hirsch particularly challenged the differential association theory by Donald and Sutherland concerning the impact and magnitude of peers/parents who were delinquent on the children’s delinquency.
His proposition was that delinquent parents or peers could not directly affect delinquency if inhibiting social bonds were in effective control. Hirsch was of the opinion that weakened social ties or bonds made the unattached youngsters drift into delinquent organizations/groups. This he argued was because these weakened social bonds could prevent either the association other delinquents or delinquency per say (Giordano, 2003, p. 23). He saw several groups or institutions as capable of strengthening these social bonds.
These included the family, peers, the schools and other religious sects or institutions. He further identified four major elements of social bonds. First was the enhancement of commitment by adherence to the conventionally accepted lines of behavior. Secondly, belief in common norms and values played a major role in prevention and control of delinquency. The third element of social bonds was the attachment to peers, school or parents and lastly involving children in conventionally accepted activities was a vital component.
Hirsch’s adoption of Toby’s concepts conformity and its conventional investment as a deterrent to crime made him emphasize on the importance of rational decision making concerning engagement in criminal activity. His argument was that through strong socialization and social bonds, an individual was unlikely to engage in crime. He has however, together with Gottfredson in 1990, developed another theory commonly referred to as “Self Control Theory”.
This theory has been criticized by Akers (in 1991) that it didn’t give a separate definition of criminal behavior and the tendency to incline to such criminal behaviors (Macquire, 2004, p. 13). Akers was thus of the opinion that this General theory regarded criminal behavior propensity and diminished self control as one. In 1993, Hirsch and Gottfredson refuted Akers proposition and suggested that this was just a real consistency indication of the self- control theory. The internal consistency of the theory thus derived from the offenders’ trait concept in crime conceptualization.
Gibbs has different version of this social control theory in application of the same to homicide control theory. He argues that there must be presence of a third party for any action to be qualified as a “social” control. His opinion is that an individual’s or individuals’ intention to manipulate others’ behavior must be through a third party. For example, his referential social control indicates the presence of a third authoritative party to who reference can be made by a party attempting to threaten another by referring or reporting the matter to him.
On the other hand, the attempt of one party to have control over another through punishment (deterrence in general for example) is regarded as vicarious form of social control. This third party presence and definition is a clear distinction between deviant behaviors themselves and reactions to deviance since there is a valid differentiation of control of behavior externally from mere social control. According to Gibbs therefore, homicide can either be regarded as a result of failure in control or as a control in itself.
Hirsch’s social control theory often called social bond theory is taken by many as a mere assumption that social control aspects such as beliefs and personal relationships would be effective in discouraging delinquency. He postulated that parental attachment paramountly inhibited delinquency regardless of the parent’s behavior. However, this premise has been contrasted especially where attachment to straight drug using parents has predicted variations that haven’t significantly inhibited drug usage patterns among delinquents.
Moreover, occasional reversals in such relationships have severally been hinted (Walters, 2002, p. 26). Hirsch’s argument is as thus one of a tautological nature by stating that in a conventional social setting, there are weakened ties or bonds between the criminal and the society. It is argued that the notions of integration and conventional society are descriptions which are static and they require to be redefined to have an appropriate application in modern criminological theories.
Sociologists and criminologists need to reassess their assumptions to accommodate scientific enquiry reflexivity in order for them to arrive at more valid and meaningful social constructions in their theories. Some studies have been conducted to investigate and give insights on the relationship between constructed social bonds scale and the social control theory. For example, there has been positive significant correlation between higher drug use and reduced social bonds, though being relatively significant, they were weak and provided little explanation value (Wong, 2005, p. 7). Attachment theory according to Hirsch is the key or major element of his social bond theory. He believed that attachment could eliminate discrimination in children since it allow them learn a lot about themselves where they are able to identify their differences, uniqueness and similarities among them. Furthermore they will learn a lot about their peers and about a variety of cultures. By establishing these common things children will form social bonds faster. These commonalities may include similar attitudes towards movies, comical books or even video games.
They will thus make friends easily when they have grounds and common activities between them since they get to know the other better (Giordano, 2003, p. 29). Children will visit the other’s home and family learning issues that pertains to their different cultures and audiences may ask a child about another for example about their likes and dislikes, family or even hobbies. This implies that the enquiry may be about the good or bad situation of the other’s life meaning that the children often has to put themselves into the other’s life. It is also proposed that incentives make children conform more and be less likely to engage in delinquency.
Attachment in this respect involves conformity that is enforced upon members of a society preferably by social pressure or by constructed law. Social control will thus be regarded as a pattern maintained by enforced influence of all the elements in a social life setting. This could be passive or active control or pressure of the social group’s actions (Lilly, Cullen, Ball, 2007, p. 46). In 1996 for example, Hirsch blamed children’s poor performance in American schools to the schools incompetence in giving “core training knowledge” to the children.
He is very critical of education programs that child centered and argues that the best education should essentially possess core standards including testing, hard work and rigor and not only as a means of self esteem improvement. The educators’ approach of using practices such as critical thing, intelligences of multiple nature, development oriented and hands on that cannot be proved has replaced the subject based, rigorous instruction that would eventually lead to proper socialization in line with his social control theory.
Hirsch’s opinion was that severe social isolation and family disruptions had significant effect on children life and their tendency to be delinquents. These he says should be considered as the first precursors in identifying the criminality of children and especially so when their point of view is put into consideration. The history and family structure fundamentally influences juvenile delinquency not to forget other socio-economical factors such as family income status, gender of the child and racial backgrounds.
Issues like shoplifting and violence among youth draws heavily on these factors and Hirsch therefore proposes that proper social bonds and community based control strategies are the most appropriate mechanism in trying to find out the causes, control and prevention approaches (Wong, 2005, p. 38). Social disorganization especially in the racial, crime prone urban areas such as slums has inflated delinquency mainly from close contact with other delinquent groups. This is more so in families that have many children and parents are unable to have full control of their children especially the older ones.
This makes these children have more time when they are freely on their own and as a result their parents may take long to know that their children are involved in juvenile crimes. In circumstances of this nature, the parents in most cases learn of their children’s behavior from restorative authorities. Retrospectively, restorative justice systems and programs are perceived as being lesser in juvenile control especially due to the fact that there is minimal participation of the victim, an effective requirement in rehabilitation and restoration of the victim to normal social life.
Many counselors use Hirsch’s theory in their roles and approach as they deal with juvenile delinquency interventions. No matter how many contemporary theories we may have, almost every counselor will begin their investigation based on Hirsch’s theory. However, it is fundamental to consider the fact that there is systemic gender differentiation in matters relating to youth justice in almost all countries in the world. This gender bias has for many years been in favour of women and girls who have been seen as leniently dealt with than men and boys especially during arrest time, trial and sentencing.
In Wales and England, women seem to be more discriminated than men especially during their first convictions. Other forms of disparities in gender related juvenile justice include differential prison environments, disparate status offences’ treatment, and possibility of consequential criminal behavior on the part of the women’s sexuality. The youth justice system of the Wales and England is deemed not to be viable until such a time as it will shift from its retributive nature to adopt a more restorative culture (Durkin, May, 2007, 41).
Although Hirsch made irrevocably important contribution to juvenile delinquency field through his social control theory, there is need for more concerted efforts in coming up with contemporary theories in this area to fill the academic lacuna. These should be developed focused into child- adult relationship and the recently overstressed family roles in dealing with delinquency. This is putting into consideration the evaluative and empirical evidence that to some extent after- school programs play a vital role in reducing juvenile and gang activities among the youth.