n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Adolescent identity, the criminal event and criminal justice in South Africa

Special Edition 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



The main objective of this study was to assess the relationship between the identity development of a group of male incarcerated adolescents and the committing of different types of offences. Through purposive theoretical sampling, 83 male incarcerated research participants in the middle years of adolescence were selected for participation in this study. The application of the standardised Erikson identity scale (Ochse 1983) proved to be reliable in correctional context. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed that although research participants who were incarcerated for sexual and other offences (kidnapping, malicious damage to property, possession of burglary tools and possessing an unlicensed fire-arm) obtained higher scores on the identity scale than those who committed aggressive and economic offences, these differences were found not to be statistically significant. This finding concurs with the views of Erikson (1956;1968) highlighting the fluidity of responses during the stressful and critical developmental stage of adolescence. Analyses of the data revealed furthermore that the offending behaviour and subsequent incarceration of the research participants deprived them of an opportunity to create a psychosocial moratorium, thereby arresting greater interpersonal differentiation. In accordance with the process of epigenesis their delinquency was also viewed as a residue of a basic mistrust in themselves and others, a lack of belief in the future, their role and value confusion together with a lack of purpose and direction. To achieve a high level of a personal and unique sense of identity, they were confronted in correctional context with the developmental task to acquire new coping skills, though in an environment marked by overcrowding, deviant subcultures, victimisation, role stripping and loss of goods and autonomy. It was concluded that the chronological young and vulnerable developmental age of the incarcerated adolescent, his particular susceptibility to conform, together with the need to feel accepted and general quest for behavioural directives rendered him in particular vulnerable to societal strain, institutional and interpersonal victimisation as well as subsequent devaluation of identity.

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