No. I (1960)

Gangs of juvenile delinquents

wyniki badań 255 grup

Published 1960-08-01


  • juvenile offenders,
  • criminal groups,
  • research,
  • Department of Criminology at the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Science,
  • Warsaw,
  • thefts,
  • hooliganism

How to Cite

Pawełczyńska, A. (1960). Gangs of juvenile delinquents: wyniki badań 255 grup. Archives of Criminology, (I), 113–163.


In the years 1953 to 1955 the Department of Criminology of the Institute of Legal Sciences carried out research on gangs of juvenile delinquents; it was a matter of the offences committed by three or more boys aged up to 17 who formed gangs of offenders.

At the Warsaw Juvenile Court the records of 716 juveniles who had, during the period in question; participated in 181 crime-committing gangs, have been investigated. Out of this material detailed investigation has been carried out on 50 groups, comprising 215 juveniles. Such detailed investigation comprised environment interviews in the family home, comprehensive conversations with the mothers, interviews at the schools, psychological examination of the minors themselves (part of them were also examined by a physician) and talks with the juveniles, who were investigated in detail from the point of view of the problem of gangs.

Apart from the research carried out in Warsaw, 74 gangs comprising 309 juvenile offenders were investigated at the Juvenile Courts in the following provincial cities: Łódź, Katowice, Cracow, and Bialystok. The research dealt with all the gangs of juvenile offenders whose cases came before the above-mentioned four Juvenile Courts in the first six months of 1954. Such research has been carried out by the Judges of the Juvenile courts themselves, according to a special questionnaire; and consisted in the juveniles giving detailed evidence concerning circumstances such as participation in the gangs, in talks with the mothers, and environment interviews (with part of the cases also psychological examination was carried out).

The basic material for the present, contribution are the 50 Warsaw and the 74 provincial gangs, all of them investigated in detail.

1. Out of a total of 255 gangs investigated (181 gangs investigated on the basis of judicial record and 124 gangs investigated in detail) there were:

a) 113 gangs systematically committing thefts.

b) 36 gangs committing either thefts or else deeds consisting in aggressively accosting or beating up (whether boys of their own age or older persons), in destroying property and in disturbing public peace. These are so-called acts of hooliganism.

c) 24 gangs committing only acts of a hooligan character mentioned above. Finally, out of the 255 gangs investigated 82 gangs were selected which had committed only one theft, and the majority of which cannot be considered to be offender gangs because of the lack of any real bond between the members of such gangs.

The age of the members of the offender gangs was as follows:

17.3 per cent of the boys were under 10 years of age.

34.6 per cent were from 11 to 12.

31 per cent were from 13 to 14.

17.1 per cent were from 15 to 17.

The percentages in the several types of gangs are, in principle, rather similar. In the gangs which systematically committed thefts a bigger span between the ages of the members was found than in the other types of gangs. While in the remaining types of gangs the juveniles are usually of the same age, or else the difference of age between them amounts to from one to two years, in the gangs which systematically commit thefts, in 37 per cent of the cases the difference of age amounts to more than three years.

As far as the number of members of whom a gang was composed is concerned, detailed investigation has established the fact that gangs numbering from three to four members amounted merely to 16 per cent, while gangs composed of six and more members were as many as 64 per cent (gangs of ten

and more members were 22 per cent), It ought to be stressed that the actual number of members of a gang was not known to the Court; in the records the number of members of such an offender gang was, as a rule, considerably smaller.

2. The data concerning the home environment of the members of the gangs under investigation, their way of life and personality look more or less similarly as those concerning juvenile recidivists whose cases are discussed in the same volume of the Archives, and this is why we do not discuss these data in detail here. It is worth noting that a bad material situation of the families was more frequent in the case of the juveniles belonging to the gangs which went in for systematic thefts than with the other types of gangs: there were 60 per cent of such cases, while e.g. with the members of hooligan gangs the same situation was found in a mere 21 per cent.

In the gangs which went in for systematic thefts there were more juveniles who hailed from homes where the family life had altogether gone to pieces. They were families in which an accumulation of such factors as the alcoholism of the fathers, continual brawls in the home, delinquency, etc., was found. In 66.6 per cent of the gangs which went in for systematical stealing all their members came just from such families, while e.g. in 45 per cent of the hooligan gangs all their members carne from families in which no decay of the family was found.

Similarly, the number of children deprived of parental control at home was the largest among the members of the gangs which went in for systematic stealing.

On the other hand, a bad attitude of the parents towards their child was more frequently found among the members of hooligan gangs than in the other types of gangs. The percentage of fathers who treated their children brutally was also highest here.

3. With offender gangs it is a matter of great importance whether the members of such gangs had committed criminal offences prior to their starting criminal their activities in gangs.

In the areas of the several Juvenile Courts the percentage of juveniles who had previously been committing offences amounted to from 30.3 per cent to 52.6 per cent. The largest number of juveniles who had been committing crimes before, and consequently brought a considerable degree of depravation with them into the gangs belongs to the hooligan-and-stealing gangs (62.4 per

cent) and to the gangs which go in for systematic thefts (42.4 per cent). On the other hand, the percentage of recidivists is low in the hooligan gangs and in those gangs which committed theft but once.

Thefts constitute 76.7 per cent of the total of the offences committed previously, thefts together with hooligan acts - 14 per cent, and hooligan offences alone - only 9.3 per cent.

Prior to their joining the gang, the boys stole mostly small sums of money, and' in the next place, food and sweets. Thefts of intoxicating liquor appear more frequently than with other types with those juveniles who later on joined hooligan gangs.

At the time of making our investigations, the juveniles who acted in delinquent gangs had already gone astray considerably, and their way of life was almost entirely disorganized.

4. The data concerning the origin of the gangs show that:

40 per cent of the gangs arose owing to contacts between boys who lived in the neighborhood;

32 per cent of them arose partly owing to neighbourly contacts, and partly owing to acquaintance struck at school;

15 per cent of the gangs arose as a result of boys meeting in the street, in public parks, at the cinema, in various places of public entertainment;

9 per cent of the groups were composed of boys who had met only at school;

4 per cent of the gangs were composed of boys who had come near each other during escapes from home or a correctional institution.

The large majority of the gangs which arose owing to neighborhood and school contacts consists of stealing gangs. The picture is altogether different in the case of gangs which arose in places of common entertainment. Here the majority consists of hooligan gangs mostly formed by older boys. The period of activity of such a gang down to the moment of it committing its first offence is mostly very brief.

The mechanism of the formation of such criminal gangs also varied: the boys, as a rule, at first formed groups just with the view to having good time. The transformation of ordinary neighborhood groups for purposes of play into criminal gangs was fostered by the family conditions of the members of such groups; by the lack of adequate care and of proper bonds between the boy and his family home, as well as by the harmful influence of the social environment at large.

School becomes, under certain circumstances, an additional factor favorable for the creation of gangs. Part of the members of such gangs consist of children who are excitable, nervous, retarded in development, and encountering great difficulties in adapting themselves to study at school and to the requirements set by the school. Such children easily become alienated from the pupils community, forming a peculiar social margin within the school.

5. From the point of view of organizational structure we can distinguish, in the material under investigation, loose gangs, gangs with certain elements of organization, and organized gangs.

Loose gangs amounted to 52.4 per cent. Their composition varied, they lacked elements of an organization altogether, they had no leader and no ,,den" of their own.

Organized gangs, with a leader and a crystallized division of roles within the gang, amounted to 23.4 per cent.

Gangs with but some elements of organization amounted to 24.2 per cent.

Organized gangs occur more frequently among the gangs which go in for systematic stealing (35 per cent) than among other types of gangs, while, on the other hand, loose gangs are typical, of hooligan gangs (91 per cent).

There exists a very essential difference between the gangs which go in for systematic stealing and those of a hooligan character. While the former are offender gangs the prime purpose of which is to commit thefts, the gangs which go in for hooligan offences are really groups for purposes of play, with whom the offence is closely connected with perverted play.

6. With the gangs which committed thefts the object of such thefts were mostly things of very small material value - food in 31 per cent of the cases, sums of money, mostly very small, in 10 per cent, sports and technical articles in 10.1 per cent, sweets in 9.1 per cent, alcoholic liquors in 8.5 per cent, building materials in 7 per cent, clothing in 6,4 per cent, while bicycles accounted for only 1.1 per cent, and watches and jewelry - for 0.8 per cent.

A comparison between the objects stolen by the hooligan-cum-stealing gangs with those stolen by the stealing ones shows obvious differences in accordance with the type of the gang. In the gangs which went in for stealing only, the most frequent object of theft is food (37 per cent), then sport and technical articles (12.9 per cent), sweets (11.8 per cent), clothing are (8.3 per cent). Alcoholic liquors one of the most infrequent objects of theft (0.8 per cent). On the other hand, with the hooligan-cum-stealing gangs, it is precisely alcohol that constitutes the most frequent object of theft !34.5 per cent); the next place is occupied by money (22.3 per cent), while the remaining objects of theft appear much more seldom; they are mostly such objects as can be sold (e.g. building materials account for 12.6 pe cent).

In a definite majority of the investigated gangs the value of the stolen object is the outcome of mere chance, and it is dependent on the opportunity of theft which has arisen.

The largest number of theft committed by the gangs investigated took place in shops (70.3 per cent).

Specialization as to the mode of performing theft is an extremely rare phenomenon with the gangs investigated.

The investigated boys who belonged to hooligan and hooligan-cum-stealing gangs have committed the following acts of a hooligan character:

Aggressive accosting and beating up 41.6 per cent.

Destruction of property (breaking window-panes, street-lamps ect.) 37.6 pe cent.

Disturbance of public peace and order 19.1 per cent.

Others 1.7 per cent.

The character of the hooligan acts perpetrated is closely connected with the age of the investigated.

For the younger age groups the characteristic offences are destruction of property (44.4 per cent) and disturbance of public peace (39.5 per cent). 66 per cent of the offences committed by older boys consist of more serious offences - accosting and beating up. Along with the age of the boys and the length of time a gang has existed the number of frequency of hooligan acts perpetrated by them also increases.

Hooligan offences were mostly committed by them at school (68.1 per cent) and in the streets and gardens (27 per cent).

7. In the investigation concerning the 50 Warsaw gangs follow-up studies have been carried out, from two to four years after the trial and the following was stated:

In this period only 42 per cent of the gangs underwent complete decay, while 58 per cent of them continued to go in to their criminal activities, including 38 per cent, the numerical strength of which had even increased. Nearly all the groups which had committed theft but once underwent a complete decay; so did one half of the gangs which went in for systematic stealing, and one about one-fourth of the hooligan and hooligan-cum-stealing gangs.

In the light of our investigation it appears that the gangs composed of younger boys (9 to 12 years) are much more permanent than the gangs composed of older boys.

As far as the individual destinies of the several members of the gangs are concerned, the follow-up studies which have been carried out have shown that only 28 per cent of the investigated have completely mended their ways. One half of the investigated have been declared to be recidivists, while with 22 per cent further symptoms of serious demoralization were found, in spite of lack of data concerning the commission of any criminal offences by them.

Improvement took place mostly in the case of the less demoralized boys, those who played but a marginal role in the gang. The improvement with younger boys was much more infrequent than that with the older ones (more than 70 per cent of the members of the hooligan-cum-stealing and systematically stealing gangs, aged up to 12, have proved to be incorrigible). The lack of improvement was also related to the length of the period of a juvenile offender's association with his gang. The longer they had participated in the offences committed by the gang, the more difficult it was for them to mend their ways, even after having severed any contacts between themselves and the gang.


  1. Kołakowska H., Nieletni recydywiści, „Archiwum Kryminologii” 1960, t. I, s. 55-112,