Environmental Factors of Crime

The analysis of individual case histories of delinquents and criminals provides an insight in the causative environmental factors. But the causative factors are more readily discernible in the case of juvenile delinquents than in the case of adult offenders. Adults so face complicated situations, sequences and experiences that they obstruct a clear view of causation.

Nevertheless, the pattern of life and activity set by milieu determines individual’s role in society. When an individual fails to fit himself in this role, he develops a life organisation of his own in a milieu that gives him scope and opportunity for a criminal career. It is, therefore, more realistic to look for behaviour patterning processes in the search for the causative factors in crime.

Most studies have shown that crime is caused because of social and economic environment. We will discuss here the role of a few selected social factors in criminality, namely, family, neighborhood, peer group, and movies.



All sociologists are of the opinion that family exerts a deep influence in the life of an individual. It not only gratifies an individual’s essential and nonessential needs but it also transmits cultural values which socialise an individual and train him in survival patterns. However, family situations vary from individual to individual.

All individuals may not be able to live in ‘normal’ families and experience socialising interpersonal relationships. Lowell Carr (Delinquency Control 1950: 166-68) has given six characteristics of a ‘normal’ family:

(i) Structural completeness, i.e., presence of both natural parents in the home;


(ii) Economic security, i.e., reasonable stability of income necessary to maintain health, working efficiency and morale;

(iii) Cultural conformity, i.e., parents speaking same language, eating same food, following same customs and holding substantially the same attitudes;

(iv) Moral conformity, i.e., conformity to the mores of the community;

(v) Physical and psychological normality, i.e., no member is mentally deficient or deranged or chronically invalid; and


(vi) Functional adequacy, i.e., members have harmonious relations with one another and there is a minimum of friction and emotional frustration. Further, children are not rejected by parents, there is a minimum of sibling rivalry, and there is no effort to escape from reality.

However, it is impossible to find a home with all these characteristics, which does not mean that there are no ‘normal’ homes at all in our society. What is important is the level or degree of the presence of these characteristics.

Retrospectively speaking, a large number of experimental studies were carried out in the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s on the families of juvenile delinquents and criminals.

The object was to ascertain factors in a criminal’s family life or the so-called ‘under-the-roof culture’ responsible for his delinquent or later criminal activities.


Identifying factors such as lack of control, too strict or too lenient discipline, parental neglect or rejection, physical abuse, and broken homes appeared to corroborate much of the popular but wise notion that family influence in general and parents’ erratic disciplining of children in particular had an influence on subsequent criminality.

Later on, however, it was found that these studies had serious methodological and conceptual deficiencies which limited their validity. In spite of this criticism, it is worthwhile to go through these retrospective studies on the role of broken homes, insecure homes, immoral homes, etc. in delinquencies.

Broken Home

The broken home is one in which one parent is absent due to death, divorce, desertion, separation or imprisonment. The absence of a parent may result in lack of affection, lack of control and supervision, development of bad habits like smoking, drinking, gambling, etc. falling into bad company, and so forth.


A number of studies have been conducted on the role of broken homes in juvenile delinquency. The broad conclusion of these studies conducted between 1939 and 1950 is that 30 to 60 per cent delinquents come from broken homes (Sutherland, 1965: 176).

Healy and Bronner’s study of 4,000 juvenile delinquents in two cities in the United States showed that about 50 per cent had a background of broken homes.

Glueck’s study (1950) of 500 delinquent boys from two correctional institutions and 500 non-delinquent boys showed that the parents of the delinquent boys employed rather unsuitable methods of disciplining their children: lax, over-strict, or erratic.

They were also either indifferent or hostile or used physical punishment against their children. In their later study (1962), they also found that the hostility became reciprocal and children also developed indifference and hostility towards their parents.


In India, Ruttonshaw’s study in Poona, a study conducted in Ahmadabad, and a study conducted in Varanasi (by Manju Kewalramani in 1982) also noted the significant role of broken homes in juvenile delinquency.

The value of such studies depends upon the comparison of experiment groups with control groups, i.e., in determining how many non-delinquents belong to broken homes is compared to delinquents.

Such studies were conducted by Shildeler and Merrill who found that about twice as many delinquents as non-delinquents came from broken homes.

Shaw and McKay found that 42.5 per cent delinquents and 36.1 per cent non-delinquents were from broken homes showing that broken home is not an important factor in delinquency. Studies by Silverman, Hirsch and Campbell also pointed out that broken home it is a relatively unimportant factor in the causation of delinquency.

However, Harny Shulman (1949) is of the opinion that the majority of research studies have shown that the incidence of broken homes is higher for delinquents than non-delinquents, which suggests that some relation does exist between delinquency and broken homes.

Sutherland (1965), however, believes that evidence in general indicates that broken home is less important than it was formerly believed to be.

My own contention is that causation must be seen as a functional relationship in which many factors interact in a changing situation, and broken home is just one factor in it. But the term ‘broken home’ is too broad.

The role of the father of a child may be taken over by his brother, mother etc. in his absence and if the father happens to be unemployed or a drunkard, his absence would not affect the upbringing of the child.

Similarly, before divorce, the relations between the husband and the wife might have already been shattered and, therefore, separation of parents might be more functional than dysfunctional for the child.

Poor Home

A poor home is not able to provide economic security to its members. It not only fails to satisfy the basic needs of members but it also fails to provide security against various exigencies of life, like accident, illness, unemployment etc. Sometimes, poverty operates directly to produce criminal activities.

A poor person who is not able to provide dowry for his daughter’s marriage may indulge in embezzlement, accepting bribes or committing fraud, etc. A child who fails to get pocket money may steal from his father’s purse. A father may steal to supply his children food, clothing, and other necessities of life. Often, poverty operates indirectly too.

A child from a poor family may run away from his home to escape worry, irritability, desperation and discord of parents and may come to associate with delinquent gangs.

Scholars like Stephan Hurwitz (1952: 319-24) maintain that the great majority of criminals and delinquents come from poor economic conditions, and the incidence of poverty in the homes of offenders far exceeds that of the general population.

Functionally Inadequate Home

This home is one in which tensions and discords are common in interpersonal relations amongst family members over question of status, role dominance, values, attitudes, rights, and acceptance. But the person who is the subject in any case-history of delinquency or crimirfality must be at the apex or one pole of the conflict.

He must be a part of the conflict. In some cases, however, a child may not be directly in conflict with his parents but his two parents may have conflicts with each other, and the child may like to escape from such home environment, fall into bad company and become a delinquent.