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Theory Analysis

‘Hirschi’s Social Control Theory

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Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory defines how the weakening or breaking of personal bonding in societies result into occurrence of delinquent acts due to absence of strong social bonds (White, 1992). This essay establishes the application and discusses the relation of Hirschi’s theory with regards to car theft and delinquency. It will specifically target the juvenile delinquents that have social problems in their families due to lack of commitment by their parents and lack of enough bonds between them and their parents. The essay starts by defining car theft, identifying its major perpetrators and concludes by applying Hirschi’s theory with relevance to the explanations in the essay.

Car Theft in Relation to Hirschi’s Social Control Theory

Car theft is the act of taking away a car that does not belong to you without the permission of the owner. The car theft analysis in relation to Hirschi’s Social Control theory will focus and analyse the relationship between juvenile delinquent and car theft. Out of all reported Australia car thefts 37% occurred in residential areas, with 35% along streets (The Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009: ABS). About 68,270 car thefts were reported to the police in 2008; representing 437 in every 100,000 registered vehicles. Australia experienced one car theft in every eight minutes (ABS, 2009). According to ABS (2009), the proportion of those who reported the crime incidences had 55% comprising of motor vehicle theft cases. In 2008, 76,700 (0.9%) households had at least a car stolen.

Youngsters accounted for 3 out of every 4 car thefts in Australia with most aged between 15-19years (AGAG’s Department, 2004). Car theft delinquents target older vehicles of lesser values, which are easy to break into as they lack enough security (Fujita, 2010).

Usually the delinquents steal cars for short distance transport, ‘joy riding’ or for use in committing other crimes like burglary (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2009: AIC). Most of the delinquents steal cars to sustain drug addiction and posh lifestyles. Peer influence and the search for recognition are contributing factors too (White, 1992)

Application of Hirschi’s Theory

Car theft delinquents often develop superficial and poor quality friendships with peers due to their similarities in attitudes and behaviour. The relationships juvenile car offenders establish tend to go beyond the family to peers and school friends, finding these relationships rewarding in provision of social support (Shoemaker, 1990). According to the theory, criminal activities like car theft usually hold the promise of immediate gratification and rewarding to the juvenile delinquencies.

Car theft as a criminal behaviour among the juvenile is due to weakening of ties that bids young people to the society. The central approaches to the study of deviant behaviour normally emphasises on the value of relationships with significance to others (Hirschi, 1969).

There are four elements of bonding (Eddy and Gribskov, 1998). Attachment as the first element of bonding relates to the presence of someone to turn to when in need, friends and parents being good role models to their children. Majority of juvenile car thieves come from weakened attachments amongst families, friends and peers. According to the AIC (2009) most of the juvenile car thieves come from families with broken bonds of attachments mainly due to divorce, separation or lack of appropriate role models.

Children who are greatly attached to their friends, families, society, and school are less likely to be involved in car theft behaviours. Attaching the students to education or school is also likely to reduce significantly the risk of engaging in car theft activities among the young people.

Commitment, the second element of bonding, explains why most delinquents car thieves engage in activities such as smoking, skipping school and avoid participation in school activities to conform to the expectations of their peers and relations (AIC, 2009). According to the predictions of Harschi, children committed to education and school achievement are less likely to be involved in car theft.

Involvement as the third element of bonding defines attributes such as how much time is spent with the family, participation in school extracurricular activities and time wastage. In car theft cases, most delinquents are less involved in the family, participate less in school activities and utilise time engaging in criminal acts such as drug abuse (AIC, 2009). Youths engaging in unconventional leisure activities and social pursuits that are unsupervised will likely engage in car theft activities.

Belief is the last element of bonding characterised by the importance of owning a home and the respect for the police. Other properties of belief relate to the perception of teachers as good people as well as the general understanding that the law should be obeyed (Hirschi, 1969). Belief influences juvenile car thieves to lack respect for police, teachers and the law. Consequently, they digress and take up definitions that favour violation of the law (Shoemaker, 1990). According to the studies, positive belief is inversely related to the criminality such as car theft.

Young people involved in conventional religious beliefs are less likely to be involved in car theft activities. Strong religious values and those holding strong religious beliefs rarely engage in delinquent activities as compared to adolescents who don’t have such belief.

In an effort to reduce the rate juveniles being involved in the car theft in Australia, a practice diversionary program (U-Turn programs) for young people (15-20years) at risk of being involved in car theft or those who have been involved has been established.


Juvenile car thieves perceive the law as unfavourable and violate it (Cullen, Wright and Bevins, 2006). With regards to belief, most juvenile car thieves perceive the law as oppressive and unfair.

Hirschi’s theory inadequately explains all forms of delinquency according to Polakowski (1994). There lacks evidence on a systematic critique of Hirschi’s research on social bonding (Adler and Laufer 2003, p. 143). The scope of the social control theory is questioned based on whether the theory elaborates on specified delinquency forms such as damage, violence, theft and general deviance (LeBlanc, Corrado and Tre’panier (ed. 1983).

Some car theft juvenile delinquents and adults however do not come from backgrounds with broken social bonds such as divorced or separated families (ABS, 2009). Hirschi’s Social Control theory may not be able to explain what triggers such car theft criminals to commit the crime.


With regard to Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory, weakening of social bonds explains juvenile car theft in Australia as most of them come from either single parents or low-income families. The strengthening of the social bond would therefore contribute toward the reduction of delinquent car theft in Australia as they would have mentors, adhere and respect for the law.


Adler, F & Laufer, W. (2003). New Directions in Criminology Theory. Vol. 4. P.148. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). 4530.0 – Crime Victimisation, Australia, 2009 – 10. Retrieved from[email protected]/Latestproducts/4530.0Media%20Release12009%E2%80%9310?opendocument

Australian Government Attorneys General’s Department. (2004). Crime Prevention and Community Safety – U Turn. Retrieved from

Australian Institute of Criminology. (2009, Feb 17). Exploring Motor Vehicle Theft in Australia. — 9k

Fujita, S. (2010). Risk Factors for Auto Theft. RTM Insights, 3. Retrieved from

Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Leblanc, M., Corrado, R. and Tre’panier, J. (ed. 1983). Current Issues in Juvenile Justice: Delinquency as an epiphenomenon of adolescence. Toronto: Butterworths.

Polakowski, M. (1994). Linking Self and Social Control Theory with Deviance. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 10.1, pp. 41 – 47.

Shoemaker, D. (1990). Theories of Delinquency: an examination of delinquent behaviour. 2nd ed. NY: Oxford University Press.

White, H. (1992). Identity and Control: a structural theory of social action. Princeton: Princeton University Press.