No. III (1965)

Young recidivists (aged 17-25 years) in the light of criminological research part I

Stanisław Batawia
Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Published 1965-01-01


  • criminology,
  • young,
  • recidivist

How to Cite

Batawia, S. (1965). Young recidivists (aged 17-25 years) in the light of criminological research part I. Archives of Criminology, (III), 9–95.


This work deals with the results of research carried out by Department of Criminology of the Polish Academy of Sciences concerning young male recidivists aged 17-25 who had been repeatedly convicted.
The fundamental material consists of:
100 young adult recidivists (aged about 20 on on the average) investigated in prisons in the years 1957/58. Follow-up studies comprise the period of 7-8 years; the average age of those investigated amounted recently to 23; 6 years.
100 recidivists, aged 21-25, investigated in prison (their average age being 23 years and 6 months), 60 of whom were subjected to detailed investigations in the years 1961/62. Follow-up studies comprised the period of 3 years; the average of the investigated amounted recently to 26;8 years.
The additional material incrudes results of the follow-up studies concerning 331 juvenile recidivists, investigated in various periods of time as of 1957:
1. 158 former juvenile recidivists (cases taken from the Juvenile Court) whose average age is now about 24; 82 of them still continue to commit offences,
2. 81 of former juvenile recidivists discharged from educational and correctional institutions, whose average age now amounts to 31; 50 of them still continue to commit offences,
3. Formerly irrvestigated 92 juveniles and young adults guilty of hooligan misdemeanours whose average age is now about 28; 52 of them still continue to commit offences.
Moreover, while dealing with certain questions, results of the research concerning 1,394 juvenile recidivists, a part of whom has recently become young adult recidivists, were also utilized.
The above material was chosen for the research in such a way as to satisfy the needs of representativeness.
The task facing the investigators at the outset of the research in prisons with regard to young adult recidivists aged 17-20 in 1957 was the verification of the following hypotheses: such recidivists derive as a rule from among individuals who alreardy in their childhood displayed symptoms of social maladjustment and repeatedly committed thefts during their minority. Prisoners aged 17-20, domiciled in Warsaw or its environs, convicted for at least the second time after the completion of 17 years of age and imprisoned for the second time at least, were successively chosen for the research in prison without any selection whatever. After a check in Juvenile Courts it appeared that 90 out of 100 young adult recidivists were tried by Juvenile Courts (for thefts as a rule); on the basis of the information given by their mothers and themselves it has been ascertained that merely 9 out of the remaining 20 did not as juveniles commit thefts repeatedly. Only 9 % of the investigated recidivists did not display any symptoms of serious maladjustment in their childhood.
In connection with these results of the research, in 1961 investigations of recidivists aged 21-25 were initiated in the Warsaw prisons. Recidivists of that age who were convicted at least twice and imprisoned for at least the third time were qualified for this research, the purpose of which was to find out a) whether also among recidlvists older than the previously investigated recidivists of 17-20 there are as a rule individuals who began to commit offences as juveniles (under 17), b) and to reveal, in cases when delinquency and recidivism begin at after the completion of 17-18 years of age, the factors influencing the subsequent beginning of the process of social degradation.
In course of one year, there were in two Warsaw prisons 259 recidivists aged 21-25, convicted at least twice and imprisoned for at least the third time. After a check in the Juvenile Courts it appeared that 153 of them (59 %) were formerly tried by the Juvenile Courts. Since they constituted an analoguous population in relation to the previously investigated 100 recidivists aged 17-20, they were not included in the research. No information could be obtained at Juvenile Courts with regard to the remaining 106 recidivists aged 21-25 as to their committing offences before the completion of 17 years of age. In course of detailed investigations of 60 out of 106 recidivists, it has been asserted on the basis of interviews held with them and their nearest relations, that 27 % of these recidivists repeatedly committed thefts already in their childhood. Thus, when these results were calculated in relation to the entire population (259) of 21-25 years old recidivists, it appeared that individuals whose delinquency began in their childhood (minority) constitute 70 % of the total. Recidivists who began committing offences after the completion of 17 years of age constitute only 30 % of the total.
Below are presented the data relating to the deliquency of 100 recidivists aged 21-25, supplemented by follow-up studies in course of a three years period (their age already amounted to 24-28 years).
Among recidivists aged 21-25, only 44 % were tried 3 times after the completion of 17 years of age, and 35 % were tried 5 times and more. After a lapse of 3 years merely 20 % of recidivists three times tried were left while already 58 % of recidivists were tried 5 times and more 24 % were tried 7 times and more).
The average length of time spent on liberty between particular arrests in connection with instituting of new judiciai proceedings, was as follows: it did not exceed 6 months for 26 % of recidivists, it amounted to 7-12 months for 37 %, 13-18 months for 19 % and did not exceed one year and a half for merely 18 % of recidivists.
63 % of recidivists remained on liberty between subsequent arrests at most one year on the average and 82 % less than year and a half. The age at which first judicial proceedings were instituted against recidivists after their completion of 17 years of age was as folows: 17-18 years for 57 % of recidivists, 19 years for 13%, 21-22 years for 10 % and 23-24 years for 2 % of recidivists.
During detailed investigations of 60 recidivists it appeared that they could be divided into two groups:
Group A (34) consists of individuals, who were first tried at courts aiready at the age of 17-18 and probably committed offences before. These recidivists are seriously socialIy degraded and at leasts 40% of them are closely connected with the criminal environment, 56 % perpetrated robberies. 62 % were tried six times and more at the age of 24-28 years.
Group B (26) consists of individuals of whom 69 % were first tried at courts only at the age of 20 and over and only 39 % were tried six times and more. They are less socially degraded, their deliquency being closely connected with alcoholism.
An analysis of deliquency of the seriously socially degraded recidivists from Group A permits to assert that offences against property constitute 55 % of all the offences for which they were convicted, while offences committed under the influence of alcohol - against authorities (mostly insults and attacks on the policemen) and against person (infringement of bodily inviolability, assaults occasioning actual bodily harm) constituted 27 % of the offences committed. Theft (burglary or larceny), the typical offence against property, constitutes 70 % of all offences against property. A relatively large numer of offences against authoritiers, mostly against the policemen and against the person, committed under the influence of alcohol, indicates at once that frequent abuse of alcohol must also play an important role in the delinquency of the Group A recidivists, especially as practically all their robberies were committed in the state of drunkenness.
Detailed investigations have shown that 80 % of these recidivists already drank alcoholic beverages several times a week before the completion of 18 years of age and now as many as 56% display symptoms of alcohol addiction although their average age is only 26;6 years.
The delinquency of the less demoralized Group B differs from that of the Group A. The percentage of offences against property is only 28 %, most of the offences were committed under the influence of alcohol and offences against the person amount to 18 %.
At the time of the research that group did not contain individuals connected with criminal environment or with professional criminals and the thefts they committed were not serious. Ten out of 26 recidivists did not commit offences against property at all.
The percentage of alcoholics in that group is as high as 61,5 %; all the others drink large quantities of alcohol several times a week.
A group of recidivists, similar to Group B now under review, appears also among the previously investigated 100 recidivists aged 17-20. After a lapse of 8 years, recidivists of that group whose offences against authorities, infringement of bodily inviolability and assaults occasioning actual bodily harm perpetrated under the influence of alcohol, amount to three fourths of all the offences committed, constitute 21 %.
Likewise, among the formerly investigated 158 juvenile recidivists now aged about 24, the seriously socially degraded recidivists, who for the most part commit offences against property (analogously to Group A) constitute 42 % and recidivists committing offences mostly connected with abuse of alcohol (similarly to Group B) 25 %.
Similar populations of recidivists also appear in other follow-up studies among the other formerly investigated juvenile recidivists. In each of these populations there exists at present a group (less numerous) of adult recidivists whose typical offences are not thefts but offences against authorities and against the person.
In connection with the intensified alcoholisrn of the investigated recidivists it should be remembered that these recidivists cannot be identified with the typical aicoholics who commit offences. Apart from the fact that not all alcoholics commit offences, indiviluals who where not tried at courts under thirty years of age can usually be encountered among the convicted alcoholics. The period of time from the beginning of a frequent abuse of alcohoI to the appearance of the first symptoms of the alcohol addiction usually lasts 5-7 years and before the syndrom, characteristic for chronic alcoholisrn becomes manifest a few more years elapse. Delinquency of the alcoholics usually becomes a secondary, late phenomenon, connected with personality deviations and difficult living conditions resulting from a long period of systematic drinking.
The delinquency of the alcoholics is besides less intensified and less serious. Therefore, recidivists who became alcoholics only after a lapse of a certain period of time, should be regarded from different points of view than those alcoholics whose delinquency made its appearance considerably later.
All investigated recidivists (except 9) aged 17-20 began to commit thefts already at school-age, most of them under 13 years of age and only 30 % of recidivists aged 21-25 were tried at courts for the first time at the age of 20 and over. Thus, the beginning of delinquency and recidivism occurs in most last cases only at the initial stage of a systematic abuse of alcohol which cannot be identified with alcohol addiction.
Nevertheless at the time of the research already 53 % of the investigated recidivists were alcohol addicts despite their youth, a fact which ought to be considered in connection with the early beginning of the abuse of alcohol by an overwhelming majority of persons investigated. A large percentage of alcoholics among the younger recidivists also indicates, that the question of personality disorders reveals itself as a problem deserving particular consideration.
This work deals in the first place with the question whether the investigated recidivists displayed any symptoms of social maladjustment at their school-time and whether they constitute an analogous population to that of juvenile recidivists who according to other investigations conducted Department of Criminology show tendencies for reiterated perpetration of offences also after the completion of 18-20 years of age.
As is well known, a part of juvenile delinquents cease to commit offences in their later years. The question what sort of juvenile delinquents stops committing offences and can be considered resocialized and what still continues to commit them at the age of 20-25, is important from the viewpoint of the problems of recidivism.
It has been asserted with regard to 185 juvenile recidivists after a lapse of ten years when their average age was 23;9, that at least 32 % of them were seriously degraded and continued to commit offences frequently. (The percentage of former juvenile recidivists, considered fully resocialized, was only 33 % after 10 years). Among 81 juvenile recidivists discharged from correctional and educational institutions 44 % continued to commit offences after a Iapse of 13 years, (their avelage age already being 31). Regarding another investigated population of 92 juvenile and young adult perpetrators of the so-called misdemeanours of a hooligan character who often abused of alcohol, it has been asserted after the lapse of 11 years when they were already 28 years old, that 56 % of them still continued to commit offences.
An analysis of the results of those investigations revealed, that juvenile recidivists who did not cease committing offences after the completion of twenty old years of age, displayed important symptoms of social maladjustment since their childhood and began to commit offences at an earlier stage than those juvenile recidivists who later reformed. Non-attendance at school, truancy, considerable retardation in learning, spending their time with demoralized companions, alcohol drinking etc. were particulary intensified as regards those juveniles who continued to commit offences after 20 years of age.
The investigated young adult recidivists (aged 17-20) and the most degraded recidivists of 21-25 (Group A) constitute a population analogous to those population which are encountered among the formerly investigated juvenile recidivists who did not cease to commit offences.
Out of 100 recidivists aged 17-20, 58 % attained only 6 grades at school (a half of them ceased to attend school at the age of 11-13), 77 % played truants systematically (practically all of them have done so already in the first years at school), 58% ran away repeatedly from home (three fourths of them started running away before they were 12) and as many as 61 % drank alcohol more often than once a week before the completion of 17 years of age. Only 13 out of 100 recidivists who later ceased to commit offences did not display serious symptoms of social maladjustment at school.
Among the seriously socially degraded recidivists of 21-25 (Group A) only 35 % finished elementary school while most of them stopped attending school after 5 grades. Truancy, repetition of grades, early contacts with demoralized boys, often older than themselves being absent from their home for many hours every day, drinking alcohol etc. are typical phenomena. Dislike for all work, quick abandoning of work, frequent changes of employment follow at a later period.
None of them ever worked systematically; some of them soon contrived to establish contacts with the criminal environment. Practically all of those recidivists have already first tried at courts art the age of 17-18.
Recidivists whose delinquency began at a later tirne (Group B) and a part of whom did not commit offences against property, differ from the former. At the time of the investigations, that group did not include any systematically stealing individuals involved in the criminal background or such who had never worked for their living. It appeared, however, that these less demoralized recidivists who have been drinking alcohol for a long tirne now and among whom, despite their youth, there were 61,5 % of alcoholics, displayed in their chirldhood symptoms of social maladjustment similar to those shown by the more socially degraded recidivists of Group A. These symptoms were more definite regarding those who later committed thefts than those recidivists-alcoholics who did not commit ofences against property (there were but ten of the latter, however). Besides, the former had a more negative attitude to work already in their early youth, although in Group B only 3 recidivists have worked rather systernatically. Typical for ałl the rest was occasionaI work and frequent changes of employment.
As is seen from the above, practically all investigated recidivists aged 17-20 and 21-25 already in their childhood displayed symptoms of social maladjustement, which shourd be considered in connection with certain personality disorders.
6. Another question dealt with in Part I of this work is the problem of family environments from which derive the recidivists aged 17-20 and 21-25. It is fitting to mention that after the end of the war in 1945 their average age was 7-8 and 6-7 years; thus, the early childhood of these recidivists coincides with the time of war and occupation.
Only 45 % of recidivists aged 17-20 and 51,7 % of recidivists aged 21-25 were brought up families in which were both parents. 32% of the former lost their father when they were under 7 years of age and 16 % under 15 while the figures for the latter are 22 % and 18% respectively.
40 % of young adult recidivists and about 50 % of recidivists aged 21-25 had alcoholic fathers, step-fathers or mothers men-friends living with them. Family environments were classified as negative in 62 % and 70 % with regard to both investigated populations; recidivists more degraded derived from worse family environments than those less antisocial.
In connection with the above results of the research this work provides data relating to family environments of the formerly investigated juvenile delinquents of whom a part was born during the war or just before its outbreak (596 cases) and a part after its termination (758 cases). A confrontation of the data relating to family environments of those two populations permits to determine the existence and nature of differences in family environments of recidivists born in these two different periods of time.
Following conclusions can be drawn from an analysis of the results of this research:
Juvenile recidivists born during the war or just before the war were brought up in the broken families in a larger percentage (51 %, 52 % and 70 %) than juvenile recidivists born after its termination (39% and 34 %). The negative home environment appears, however, in the similar percentage regarding both the former (45 %, 40 % and60 %) and the latter (44 % and 58 %); homes of good educational atmosphere are scarce and do not exceed 19 % - 22 %. Data relating to alcoholism in homes are formed in much the sarne way (55 %, 54 %, 51 % - 58 % and 53 %).
Results of investigations of 158 juveniles committing thefts (recidivists constitute 71 %) most of whom were born already several years after the war deserve special consideration. That research covered all juveniles tried for thefts in course of one year at one of the Juvenile Courts in Warsaw. 58 % of the investigated juveniles derived from homes classified as negative family environments (only 20 % of homes deserved a positive appraisal). A statisticaily significant relationship between recidivism and the negative home environment was ascertained at the same time. The same significant relationship between the negative home environment and a further recidivism, estimated on the basis of follow-up studies covering a period of 10 years, applies to another research comprising 158 juvenile recidivists.
Thus the abnormal family structure and highly unfavourable home conditions under which the childhood of most of the investigated recidivists aged 17-20 and 21-25 was spent, are typical also for the investigated populations of juvenile recidivists displaying tendencies for further recidivism.
Next volume of the "Archives" deals with the problem of personality of the investigated recidivists and with certain questions connected with the erroneous penal and penitentiary policy which is contributing to the process of their social degradation.


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