Case Study 1: Applying Theory to Practice

Case Study 1: Applying Theory to Practice

CRJ 180: Juvenile Delinquency and Justice

Juvenile delinquency is nothing new, and it seems to be getting worse with each passing year. Young children are committing crimes that shock the nation, from mass shootings and murder to lesser crimes like theft and vandalization. These crimes are often the result of a juvenile being raised in a toxic environment or being influenced by those around them. The choice is the juveniles, and they make them alone but looking back at their childhood can often show signs of trouble. Behavioral theory helps to explain how interactions with other people can affect our behavior (Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi, 1). Several factors play into how each child’s personality will develop, but those from broken homes are often the ones who exert delinquent behavior. Such is the case with little Mary Bell.

Mary Bell killed two young boys when she was eleven years old. The first boy she killed was Martin Brown whom she killed in the summer of nineteen-sixty-eight. The police believed that little Martin’s death was accidental until Brian Howe was found strangled a few weeks later. Brian Howe was found with a variety of wounds to his body from stab wounds to the mutilation of his genitals. When police began to investigate little Brian’s murder, they noticed that two girls were behaving strangely and one of those girls was none other than Mary Bell. Mary tried to put suspicion on another child, but she knew facts about the crime scene that had not been made public. The other girl, Norma Bell, eventually broke down and told the police that she watched Mary kill Brian and later went back with her to mutilate his body (Monacelli, 2).

The key factors that played into why Mary Bell turned out the way she did are poverty, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and her parent’s influences. Mary was born in a poverty-stricken neighborhood and born to a mother that tried to give her away or pushed her off on her family members. Her mother was a prostitute, and she neglected Mary, not wanting her or much to do with her. When Mary got older, her mother abused her and even made her participate in sexual acts with her clients. Mary’s father was a criminal, and he stayed in trouble with the law which also meant that he was not there for Mary or her mother. It was a toxic environment for Mary to be living in and it affected her behavior and her personality. Due to the toxic environment, Mary became detached, emotionless, and even violent towards other children and other members of her family (Duncan, 3).

Behavioral theory is the theory that proposes that our behavior reflects our interactions with others throughout our lifetime (Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi, 1). Mary was in contact with numerous bad influences from the times she was born. Her father was a criminal, her mother was a prostitute, and she was continuously being introduced to men that her mother entertained. She was in constant contact with criminals and horrible people. Norma Bell, another girl around her age, was just as bad though it is uncertain which girl influenced the other (Duncan, 3). Mary observed the behavior of those around her and their interactions with each other. She had her own interaction with people, though it was often violent. It also seems that Mary might have had little to no punishment for her misbehaving which only told her that it was okay to keep being violent and to keep acting out. With no consequences to her actions, Mary did not associate her behavior with doing anything wrong.

A good strategy for the behavioral theory is for parents to be mindful that their children are learning, not only from them but from the people they meet. A child’s mind is easily influenced, and if they are surrounded by criminals from the time they are born, then they are more likely to become a criminal. Another thing to keep in mind and apply to a strategy is to punish a child for their bad behavior. A child does not learn if they are not taught. If a child touches a hot surface and burns themselves, they learn that that surface is unsafe, and they are likely to stay away from that surface. Punishing a child for bad behavior helps to reinforce good behavior, and it can be the difference between a good child and a bad child.

In conclusion, many factors played into the decisions Mary made. Her story and her actions should speak volumes to parents and families. The influences a child has in their lives are what shape their behavior and can help them make a good choice over a bad choice. Mary had many bad influences in her life and even though, they did not decide for her, they did influence what she did. It is important to keep in mind that children learn from the adults around them and their environment. Not all children from the same places or with the same type of bad influences will make bad choices, but it does make them more likely to make those choices.


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