The Juvenile Justice System and Social Bonding Theory

Social Bonding Theory

According to social bonding theory, most crimes are committed due to a lack of control. This theory explains why some people abstain from crime rather than commit it. Social control results from socialization, the process by which individuals develop the concept of good and bad. In the early formulations of the theory, this understanding of the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ formed the basis of internal self-control.

Hirschi contributed significantly to developing social bonding and social control theories. His theory of social connections is predicated on the fundamental tenet that people have a propensity toward criminal behavior. Hirschi’s four conditions for deterring juvenile delinquency are attachment, commitment, engagement, and belief (Lilly et al., 2018). Attachment refers to a person’s emotional bonds with others since an individual with good relations with people will not want to do something that can damage or destroy them.

Commitment refers to the extent to which a person is willing to follow a conformist line of behavior, following socially recognized rules, goals, or activities. People are more likely to conform to specific rules of behavior in order to get things done. Engagement refers to the duration of being engaged in an accepted, approved activity, which can also play a deterrent role. The longer an individual is engaged in constructive activity, the less time is left for deviant actions. Belief is associated with the strength of a person’s views and faith regarding the need to comply with social norms and rules of behavior.

Later, Hirschi, together with Gottfredson, developed the social bonding theory into a theory of self-control. This theory is based on one of the most important consequences of the socialization process, which manifests itself very early in a child’s life (Lilly et al., 2018). According to the theory, individuals with low levels of self-control are more likely to be drawn into criminal activities. A low level of self-control develops mainly due to the improper upbringing of a child. Children whose parents do not pay enough attention to their upbringing are more likely to become prone to criminal activity (Lilly et al., 2018). The self-control theory makes it possible to explain the variety of criminal behavior and a person’s tendency to re-offending. At the same time, weak social connections and low self-control are not necessarily determinants for offending. Nevertheless, the relationship between these factors and deviant behavior is quite apparent.

The Juvenile Justice System is Broken

Social control is a mechanism for ensuring compliance with social norms and influencing the violation of these norms. As Cheung and Cheung (2008) point out, the main reason juveniles commit crimes is their low level of self-control. Lack of self-control leads to weak social bonds, delinquent peers, complicated relationships with parents and teachers, and education problems.

On the other hand, factors such as strong social ties and the value system laid down by parents are the key elements of social control over the commission of offenses. Thus, these factors are interrelated, making it necessary to develop a new approach to prevent juvenile delinquency. The video (PBS NewsHour, 2021) says about the importance of changing the educational system to promote interaction between teenagers and form a system of social control. First, social control ensures and stimulates socially positive, pro-normative behavior of people. Secondly, it influences various forms of deviant behavior to prevent and minimize violations of social norms.

Improving educational programs for adolescents to minimize delinquency contributes to the development of institutional and public social control and individual self-control. Institutional social control exercised by the authorities and built based on punishments have become obsolete. Instead, it is necessary to build a system in which a teenager who has committed a crime or has a predisposition to commit a crime must be integrated into society. Proper education and healthy relationships with peers will help avoid re-offending among juveniles.

Moreover, this approach can also stop juvenile offending before youth enter the juvenile justice system. The need to raise the level of self-control in adolescents, who, under the influence of social factors, are more prone to commit crimes, is crucial for reducing juvenile delinquency. Since juveniles are often predisposed to commit crimes based on the social characteristics of their environment, education can be considered the primary method of controlling such teenagers.

Juvenile justice system: Why teens commit crimes

The video (WBNS 10TV, 2022) describes the stories of Patrick and Gabe, who were accused of committing a crime. Analyzing the attachment of these adolescents, which is the emotional connection of a person with other people, it can be noted that both teenagers had good relationships with their families. Nevertheless, their key to committing a crime was their relationship with peers.

In addition, both teenagers’ commitment and engagement are worth noting since both were involved in deviant activities. Commitment to a conformist line of behavior has dropped significantly due to the pandemic. Adolescents have fewer social connections and services, like education, which could prevent them from committing crimes. Moreover, the example of Gabe and Patrick shows how being involved in convention activities helps prevent re-offending. Getting an education, a job that one enjoys, or, in the case of Patrick, joining an army creates stronger social bonds and increases the individual’s self-control, reducing the likelihood of committing a crime.

Moreover, Gabe notes that many teenagers know the laws and concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and “know right and wrong” (WBNS 10TV, 2022). However, they rarely take this into account when deciding to commit crimes. Furthermore, this pattern is reflected in the study by Bouffard and Rice (2011), in which most adolescents answered that even though they knew the law, it had little significance for them at the time of the crime. Despite understanding social norms of behavior and the law, adolescents’ belief in the need to comply with social standards and rules is relatively low. However, along with the development of social connections and an increase in self-control, the conformist position of the individual is also strengthened. Thus, the more Gabe and Patrick integrated into society through education, work, or joining any social group, like the army, the greater their belief in conventional values became.


Bouffard, J. A., & Rice, S. K. (2011). The influence of the social bond on self-control at the moment of decision: Testing Hirschi’s redefinition of self-control. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(2), 138-157. Web.

Cheung, N. W., & Cheung, Y. W. (2008). Self-control, social factors, and delinquency: A test of the general theory of crime among adolescents in Hong Kong. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(4), 412-430. Web.

Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2018). Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. SAGE Publications.

PBS NewsHour (2021). The juvenile justice system is broken. Here is what actually works [Video]. YouTube. Web.

WBNS 10TV (2022). Juvenile justice system: Why teens commit crimes [Video]. YouTube. Web.

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LawBirdie. "The Juvenile Justice System and Social Bonding Theory." November 17, 2023.