Crime Rates in Context of Developmental Theory


Crime rates are a critical indicator of the status quo in the nation. Crime rates can vary significantly and be affected by a range of aspects ranging from geography to the economic situation and the demographic makeup, educational levels, and prevalent family structures in the population. Studying crime rates over time is important to understand the effectiveness of policing and preventive measures as well as changing sociocultural environments.

Juvenile Crime Rates

In the 10-year period leading up to 2019 (the latest data available), juvenile arrests have declined by 58% since 2010. The number of arrests in 2019 was 696,620 across all categories, including violent crime, property crime, and non-index. The decline in crime arrests is seen across virtually all categories, including a 54% decline in violent crime and 73% in property crime. The murder rate saw slight increases annually, up 27% from 2012 to 2018, but then fell by 6% in 2019. It remains slightly lower than in 2010 but significantly less by 80% from its 1993 peak. Furthermore, robbery and aggravated assault similarly saw 40% declines in rates, demonstrating a significant decline.

UCR Index Crime Rate

In 2010, 283,805 violent-crime incidents and 321,342 offenses were reported for violent crimes. In 2020, there were 538,203 violent-crime incidents and 640,836 offenses reported. This indicates a nearly 89% increase in violent crime incidents and a 99% increase in offenses reported. Notably, these numbers include the juvenile rates as well. However, the majority of the crimes fall on ages 20-39. The rate of violent offenses by population decreased slightly from 404.5 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 398.5 per 100,000 people in 2020, likely diluted due to population growth. For property crimes, in 2010, there were 2,429,867 property-crime incidents and 2,435,232 offenses reported. In 2020, that number increased to 3,404,745 property-crime incidents and 3,424,591 offenses reported, showing an approximately 40% increase (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2021).

Developmental Theory

A model which can potentially explain the statistics described above is Thornberry’s interactional model of offending. At its core, the theory suggests that delinquent behavior is caused by weak social bonds and being involved in delinquent networks of peers. However, delinquency has a feedback effect which further weakens prosocial bonds and strengthens their presence in criminal networks or belief systems. At the same time, it works vice versa, and an individual with strong social bonds, such as attachment to parents, will have belief in conventional and prosocial values that would be exemplified in their behavior, such as commitment to school or work, and a lack of association with delinquent elements. Thornberry emphasized that social control and bonding constructs are the key predictors of delinquency. The key to the model is that the relationships between factors, whether they are negative or positive, are reciprocal, meaning interaction with one element, such as committing a crime, will lead to another, such as engaging in a delinquent social group or the other way around, but either way, both perpetuate each other in a continuous feedback loop (Schramm & Tibbetts, 2020).

This theory should be viewed in the context of the socio-economic environment in the last decade to identify why juvenile crime rates have declined so much in comparison to growth for adults. There are several reasons for this, the primary of which is significantly more attention, money, and social support being focused on child welfare both from schools and parents themselves. A part of it is culture; the crime and “gangster” culture, which peaked in the 1990s, is long gone, and current culture is largely focused on more positive values such as self-improvement, social media presence, and social issues. These are all largely prosocial and conventional values that are popularized even among the most underprivileged groups. Furthermore, there has been a change in approach by the state institutions, which no longer seek to jail juvenile offenders but instead have directed efforts towards rehabilitation, reconciliation, and community integration. These effectively work and serve as a contrast to when delinquents in the system would be associated with other delinquents and, once out of the system, engage in crimes together, as based on Thornberry’s model of delinquent behavior.

There are concrete state interventions in the modern day to potential instances of neglect or abuse as well as bullying and children facing or witnessing violent crime themselves, which would otherwise lead to negative behaviors and unstable social values. Meanwhile, adult crime rates are increasing, particularly in violent crimes such as murders, which saw nearly a 30% increase between 2019 and 2020, the largest single-year rise in more than a century. Some possible explanations for this include the socio-economic environment, which has been highly unbalanced over the past decade but specifically created highly unprecedented conditions with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, driving people to desperation. Furthermore, numerous cases of social unrest, such as surrounding Black Lives Matters protests, have also created unstable environments. The argument presented is that due to the highly inconsistent and troubling socio-economic environment, adults were more likely to seek out criminal behavior, potentially to survive or improve their quality of life. Some of it also had to do with the mental health crisis brought on by the pandemic and the continued ease of access to firearms. The formation of delinquent values led to delinquent behavior or association with such individuals, resulting in increased rates.


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021). Crime data explorer. Web.

Jones, C., & Scherer, J. (2021). Juvenile justice statistics. Web.

Schram, P.J., & Tibbetts, S.G. (2020). Introduction to criminology: Why do they do it? (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications.

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1. LawBirdie. "Crime Rates in Context of Developmental Theory." September 13, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Crime Rates in Context of Developmental Theory." September 13, 2023.