Entangling Juvenile Delinquency
LATE in January, the Commissioner of the New York City Youth Service called an extraordinary press conference to announce a development of “tremendous significance for the juvenile delinquency prediction effort.” Flanked by the Deputy Mayor, Paul T. O’Keefe (Mayor Wagner, ill, was absent), and the Harvard criminologists, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, Commissioner Ralph Whelan praised the effectiveness of the Gluecks’ “Social Factors Prediction Scale.” This scale, he reported, had successfully predicted the delinquency or non-delinquency of 86.5 per cent of a group of boys in the Bronx. The Commissioner proposed that the Gluecks’ scale be broadly applied to selected schools throughout the city: its extensive use, he said, would allow spotting “at an early age, those youngsters upon whom it would be necessary to concentrate the city’s preventative resources.”
Unfortunately, the Claims made for this Youth Board study are, if not deliberately dishonest, at least as systematically misleading as the advertising that accompanies the inauguration of a new filter cigarette. More important, this kind of study in addition poses two general problems: first, the inherent limitations of any study which tries to predict or explain a complex personal, social, and ideological problem like delinquency by a simple correlation of bad families and bad boys; and, second, the increasing ease with which social scientists who claim too much can “over-sell” their results to an uncritical public.
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