No. VI (1974)

The Follow-Up Studies of 100 Boys Charged with Theft at the Age of 10-11

Published 1974-09-01


  • juvenile delinquents,
  • theft,
  • boys

How to Cite

Żabczyńska, E. (1974). The Follow-Up Studies of 100 Boys Charged with Theft at the Age of 10-11. Archives of Criminology, (VI), 128–139.


1. This work presents the results of follow-up studies of the subsequent fate of 100 boys who had committed theft and as 10‒11-year-olds had in 1966 become the subject of research into problems involved in offences committed in childhood ‒ and what led up to them. At that time these boys were examined at the Prophylactic Centre of the State Grzegorzewska Institute of Special Education in Warsaw. All 10‒11-year-old boys charged at the Warsaw Juvenile Court were in turn brought within the scope of the survey.

During research conducted in 1966 it was found that the majority (59%) of the 10‒11-year old boys examined were not first offenders and that 11% had even appeared previously in the juvenile court for theft.

As many as half of the 10‒11-year-olds were retarded as school pupils. Examination as to knowledge acquired in school revealed that their ability to write was much below the average for their age; as many as 36% were poor or very poor readers. The teachers designated 80% of the boys examined as difficult pupils; approximately half of them ‒ as distinctly over-excitable and aggressive. Not less than 75% played truant, 29% stole in school.

28% of  the boys investigated ran away from home. Having regard to the boys’ age, of significance is the relatively high percentage of them (24%) who were found to drink from time to time wine and even vodka.

An intelligence test (WISC) revealed in the majority of cases (61%) a normal level of intelligence (with IQs above 90). 31% of them had IQs of 70-90, and in 8% the IQs below 70.

The quite substantial percentage of dullness found in the children may be related to their school retardation, particularly in view of the significant dependence found between the lowered IQ and marked shortcomings in reading and writing. Of course, a lowered intellectual level may also have been caused, as environmental interviews showed, by considerable neglect of such children, a phenomenon with which we shall deal later.

Psychiatric examination revealed neurotic disorders of personality in 47% ot the children examined.

As many as 35% of them were brought up in broken families (semiorphans

or divorced parents). 64% of the fathers were heavy drinkers and in addition 20% of the mothers of the same children indulged too freely in alcohol. In 62% of the families the relationship between the parents was unsatisfactory; 52% of the fathers were described by the mothers as “quicktempered and nervous”. In almost one-third of the families at least one member had committed offences and had been already convicted by acourt.

It was found that 39% of the families had inadequate financial situation, unable to satisfy the child’s basic needs. In 23% of the families the children suffered from extreme neglect, and even the remaining families failed to give their children adequate care. Frequently, the children investigated (61%) were subjected to severe corporal punishment.

It emerged that various negative factors, typical of the family atmosphere of the children examined, were more frequent in the case of those boys who had already stolen prior to their court appearance at the age of 10‒11. These factors included: being reared in broken families, excessive drinking by fathers, unsatisfactory relationship between parents, fathers irascible and nervous, court convictions against family members, extreme neglect of the children, subjection to severe corporal punishment.

Those of the children examined who had already previously stolen also revealed more frequently than the others other disturbances in the process of socialization – they ran away from home and drank alcohol.

  1. In 1972, five years after the research outlined above, follow-up investigations were made with a view to establishing the subsequent progres of the 100 10–11-year-old boys studied, how they got on in school, whether they committed offences, and what was the atmosphere in their homes.

After the next five years it was possible to divide the boys investigated into three groups:

I – those not convicted during the period – only 30%;

II – those who during the period had one or two court appearances (37%); and

III – those who went most seriously astray, being convicted at least three times – as many as 33% of the total. (Boys charged on a further 6 occasions accounted for 12% of the total.)

Juvenile thieves charged at the age of 10-11 reveal distinct tendencies to rapid recidivism.

Although 29 of the boys were committed to educational institutions or approved schools, their school career showed further shortcomings. There was a marked increase in the percentage of retarded boys, one-third were at least two years behind, 40% did not complete primary school, although all of them should have done so (even allowing for a slight time lag). The process of demoralization is linked with intensified shortcornings as pupils – the most intensive shortcomings were observed in group III: those with the most convictions.

At the end of the five years, crimes committed by the boys’ families were also found to have increased; the percentage of families in which fathers or brothers have been convicted was up to 44. Notable in the families of 50 boys was the developing incidence of crimes committed by brothers; in as many as 60% of these families brothers had been convicted, The type of crimes committed and the type of recidivism found among members of the family indicated that about one-third of the families belong to criminal environment. The boys from group III – those with the most convictions during the follow-up period – came much more often from such families and circles than those belonging to the remaining groups.

The problem of youngsters charged in court at a very early age – 10-11 years old – is above all a problem of education and care. The fact that they were reared in unsatisfactory family environments favoured recidivism in these children during the five years of follow-up period, and an especially marked concentration of negative factors (excessive drinking on the part of the parents, offences committed by the father, absolute neglect of the children) was found in the families of the most severely demoralized lads of group III.

Some symptoms of social maladjustment found already at the age of 10-11 were a significant prediction of further recidivism. Boys, who had already committed thefts prior to their arraignment at 10-11 years old were during the follow-up period much more frequently found among recidivists – notably among those of group III. These recidivists differed significantly from the remaining groups in having started to steal when very young. The repeated drinking of alcohol, already at the age of 10-11, was also significant for the prediction of further criminal conduct. Moreover, the recidivists, were more frequently found among those who at the age of 10-11 had run away from home. And among juvenile recidivists of group III, clearly indicated was a greater frequency than with the remainder of running away from home, even at so early age.

It is of interest that the three groups of boys (I: without further convictions, II: with one or two court appearances and III: at least three times convicted) did not differ significantly in respect to the value of property stolen at the age of 10-11.

But it emerged that recidivism was more frequent among boys investigated who at the age of 10-11 had been backward at school and among those in whom tests indicated an IQ below 90. Thus the problem of school teaching, the great gaps in knowledge and objective difficulties in learning are fundamental problems in early delinquency. This suggests the need for early identification of children experiencing various types of difficulties in school.

Since the majority of the homes investigated were unable to guarantee the children conditions for normal development even during the pre-school period, and since the process of demoralization of the children examined had started very early, the present survey spot-lighted a category of families in which the appropriate child-care authorities simply must intervene at a very early stage. Such official intervention should be combined with detailed medical and psychiatric examinations of the children already during the pre-school period.

The early spot-lighting of such homes is of fundamental significance in the prophylaxis of social maladjustment of youngsters


  1. Spionek H., Psychologiczna analiza trudności i niepowodzeń szkolnych, Państwowe Zakłady Wydawnictw Szkolnych, Warszawa 1970.