Social Context Of Thefts At Czech Schools

Abstract

Thefts at school are one of the obstacles in building a safe school environment that makes the effective teaching process easier. Although this is not a rare phenomenon, literature covers it only marginally. This paper presents quantitative results of the author’s dissertation thesis describing in the first part the thefts committed by pupils aged 11-15 years in a school environment in the Czech Republic. The second part introduces significant variables from the social context of these pupils by means from regression model. The outcomes of the statistical analyses enrich not only pedagogical theory but at the same time indicate important elements of family and school contexts of the pupils who commit these thefts. Four variables were on the significant level 5% in the regression: attachment to school, self-control, tension in family and other demonstrations of risk behaviour and these may be regarded the most important from the point of view of thefts at school. The variables social learning in family and delinquent friends were also marginally significant. With regard to the delinquency theories on thefts at school committed by pupils, the following theories are important: Problem Behaviour Theory ( Jessor, 1991 ), General Theory of Crime ( Gottfredson a Hirschi, 1990 ), General Strain Theory mainly focused on family context ( Agnew, 2009 ) and Social Control Theory and Social Bond Theory ( Hirschi, 1969 ).

Keywords: Thefts at schoolmiddle school pupilsdelinquency theoriessecondary socialization

Introduction

Thefts are an indisputable part of the history of mankind. Unauthorized enrichment with things that do not belong to the individual has occurred beyond social and legal norms from time immemorial. Thefts by teenagers aged between11-15 have its specifics which distinguishes them from the thefts in shops, public transport or wherever in the street. Criminal liability applies to the people older than 15 years in the Czech Republic. Most authors agree that a child aged 11 understands the meaning of ownership and is able to distinguish the owner of things (e.g. Martínek, 2015; Vágnerová, 2012). At the moment when a teenager steals something at school in most cases they know who the owner is and has a relationship with them thanks to day to day contact. Therefore, they can realize to a greater extent the effects of their actions.

Most recommended approaches to how the thefts at school should be solved concur that before a punishment or disciplinary procedure is imposed, the reason for such behaviour should be revealed (Fontana, 2014; Čapek 2014; Ludíková et al., 2012).

Richterová (2017) carried out a mapping review of the research focused on thefts at school, published in 2000-2016 in the databases Ebsco, Google Scholar and Eric. On the basis of studying 147 544 links, 14 representative researches were chosen and carefully analyzed. The analysis showed that thefts at school are more commonly part of extensive studies of risk or delinquent behaviour of pupils. International studies focused on risk and delinquent behaviour of teenagers and national studies inspired by their methodologies such as Cardiff school study (Boxford, 2015) or a research from Saudi Arabia (Abdulkarim Al Makadma et al., 2015) use standardized questionnaires, multidimensional statistical methods and deal in depth with validity and reliability of their findings. Original national studies e.g. in the Czech Republic or Estonia (Bendl, 2001; Koiv, 2014) resemble tentative research suggesting new topics suitable for further exploring. Among the most important quantitative findings were the following: boys are involved in thefts at school more than girls throughout different countries and cultures (Moravcová et al., 2015; Boxford, 2015; Abdulkarim Al Makadma et al., 2015; Sobotkováet al., 2014; Harbaughet al., 2013; Barbereteet al., 2010; Podaná et al., 2007). Most thefts at schools are latent. Neither teachers, nor other staff and nor parents learn about them (Sobotková et al., 2014). The number of thefts that the pupils admit to at schools´ ranges from 5.3 % (in Great Britain) to 23.4 % (in the Netherlands) (Barberete et al., 2010). The pupils say they start with the offence against property at the age 11-12 years (Barbereteet al., 2010). The research ISRD3 in the Czech Republic suggests the connection between two types of risk behaviour. Those who pleaded guilty in case of thefts confessed they had experience with alcohol consumption (Moravcová et al., 2015). A link has been proved between thefts at school, physical assault and vandalism in Great Britain and Saudi Arabia (Abdulkarim Al Makadma et al., 2015; Boxford, 2015). The most thefts occur in a classroom (79.5 %), in a school corridor (5.6 %), in a sport field and in a gym (1.9 %). Most common to steal are school supplies (55.2 %), books, CDs, videotapes (12.6 %), money (11.2 %) (Boxford, 2015). These findings point out some specifics of thefts, but they give only partial answers to what kind of pupils in terms of their social context steal repeatedly at school. These findings also give no answer whatsoever to possible causes of thefts.

The results of the quantitative part of the research of thefts, which was carried out in Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic in the years 2016-2017 are presented in this paper. The representative population of pupils were in age from 11-15 years.

The author of this article described the results of the research in her dissertation thesis (Richterová, 2017). It has not been published so far and it is available in the electronic database of the Palacký University in Olomouc.

Problem Statement

The research problem focused on the clarification of why to study thefts at school and their context can be viewed from two time perspectives. One deals with the situation at school and in class “here and now” and the below declared influence of thefts on the teaching process. The latter perspective is future and the possibility to affect the criminal career of some pupils at school so that they do not have to follow this career. Both levels will be described in detail.

Elementary school should be a safe place designated for education and learning. Theft at school is one of the factors which disturb this safety. The education in middle schools (corresponds to 11-15 years old pupils) in the Czech Republic according to Framework Education Programme for basic education enables pupils to gain not only skills and knowledge but helps them to form values and attitudes towards judicious and cultivated behaviour (Jeřábek et al., 2015, p. 9). Education from the point of view of general objectives helps forming critically thinking independent citizens who are aware of their own dignity and at the same time respect the rights and freedom of others (Kotásek et al., 2001, s. 14–15). Working with pupils who repeatedly steal in school environment is difficult as regards these objectives. A number of research studies which focus on higher level of delinquent behaviour at schools including thefts describe this fact as one of the obstacles to effective learning (Harreaves et al., 2012). Other studies point out that pupils will only partially participate in the learning process if they do not perceive school as a safe place (Bosworth et al., 2011; Milkowska, 2011; Goldstein et al., 2008; Brookmeyera et al., 2006). Vágnerová (2012, p. 795) states that thefts make 38 % of all the offences of pupils at school. Significant growth can be seen in middle schools.

In the lives of pupils who repeatedly commit delinquent actions, a number of signals can be observed which may help reveal possible future development in the delinquent career of individuals (Večerka et al., 2004, p. 8). Many times when the adult delinquents are retrospectively studied certain areas come to light e.g. family or school environment in which nobody noticed these signals or nobody dealt with them. The rigour of the current work with the pupils who show delinquent behaviour is late intervention. It mostly starts only when risk or delinquent behaviour is fully developed. This is the moment that allows us to consider whether a suitable intervention or approach of a teacher or a social worker would have helped to divert the launched career of a future delinquent. The school environment if it could identify the risk signals and work with them would be a key area for the potential elimination of the delinquency of pupils. Teachers and educators are one of the few groups of people who have regular contact with pupils apart from their family. Boxford (2015, p. 48) describes the school environment in connection with risk behaviour demonstration as an important place of socializing.

Research Questions

The research was split into two phases. This paper presents the first phase which presents the statistical results. A self-report study was carried out in this phase and enabled to verify the validity of chosen theories of delinquency. The independent variables of the social context were identified according to the eleven theories explaining the context of delinquent behaviour (Theory of Cultural Transmission, Social Control Theory and Social Bond Theory, General Theory of Crime, General Strain Theory, Theory of Anomie, Developmental Theory of Criminology, Theory of Theft grounded in Jungian theories, Social Learning Theory, Social Cognitive Theory of Morality, Theory of Deterrence, Problem Behaviour Theory).

Research question 1: What are the specifics of thefts at school in the Czech Republic (in Moravian-Silesian Region) as for their frequency, offenders´ age differences, the type of stolen things, the causes given by offenders, and the rate of disclosure?

Research question 2: How does committing a risk-theft at schools in Moravian-Silesian Region depend on the chosen variables of personal, family, and school contexts of these pupils?

Purpose of the Study

By means of finding the answer to the first research question, a descriptive account of the specifics of thefts at schools in the Czech Republic was established. Twenty independent variables were chosen on the basis of the eleven theories of delinquency mentioned above and on the basis of previous research on thefts at schools. The presumption is that each of these variables can be significant in relation to pupils who steal in a school environment. The answer to the second research question was found using logistic regression that modelled the relationship between an alternative explained dependent variable and a greater number of explanatory independent variables (regressors).

Research Methods

Research respondents

The main body of research was undertaken with the pupils of middle schools in the Moravian-Silesian Region. The Moravian-Silesian Region (MSK) which was chosen out of the fourteen regions of the Czech Republic as a key region for the research part of work has certain specifics for which it was chosen. With its 1,220,000 inhabitants, it is the third most populated region in the Czech Republic. Its area of 5, 427 km2 makes it the sixth largest region in the Czech Republic, covering 6.9 % of the Czech Republic. In connection with the restructuring of the region, there are a number of social problems arising from a large number of minority groups compared to other regions. Also, the unemployment and delinquency rates are rather high (Jandourek, 2011, p. 10). According to the police statistics it is also the region with the highest number of police records on thefts in the 11-14 age group reported to the police in 2016. We can therefore presume that it is the region in which there are more possibilities than in other region to observe and study thefts in a school environment. There were 308 complete elementary schools in the Moravian-Silesian Region in 2016. Random group sampling was used to obtain at representative sample. There were 380 respondents.

Research method and data collection

The main method chosen for the statistical part of the research was at self-report of the pupils questionnaire administered to pupils. The questionnaire, created for the purpose of this research, was composed of four parts, 25 items were further divided into subitems. Open questions, semi-closed, closed, and scale questions were used. Scale questions were used for a comprehensive index comprising individual variables such as self-control, relationship to school , and relationship to family . The introductory part informs the pupils about the questionnaire and contains guidelines filling. So-called lie scores were included in the questionnaire, one by opposite scaling, another by placing the same enquiry in two different places in the questionnaire. The questionnaire was piloted on four pupils of middle schools who had had repeated problems in a school environment. Some questions were later altered, taking into account pupils´ replies. All the pupils filled in the questionnaire within 35-45 minutes.

The first part of the questionnaire focuses on the opinions and experiences of pupils regarding school. The second focuses on family. The third part which is called “Things that people occasionally do” contains the items about thefts at school and other forms of risk behaviour that pupils might have faced at school. The fourth part contains a written assignment intended for qualitative analysis – the topic is “My family”. Identity questions were included at the end of the questionnaire – the entries 22, 23 and 24.

A dependent variable (a pupil who steals) was assigned the value 1 with pupils who confessed to repeated stealing in a school environment, or stole once and confessed to three or more risk-behaviour activities. With other pupils this variable was assigned the value 0 (an alternative random variable). Independent variables were pooled from previous research and literature on this topic. For easier referencing they are divided into the variables concerning personal specifics, family, school, and peer contexts (Table 01 ).

Table 1 -
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Findings

Descriptive statistics on thefts

Pupils in the age 11 to 15 go through an adolescence process in which the need of exploring one´s own identity as well as testing boundaries are important. Trying out risk activities is common in this age. For the purpose of the research on thefts at school it was important to identify cases of boundary testing, i.e. to separate small thefts from thefts with greater risk of a delinquent career development in the future. The dependent variable was chosen as “a pupil who steals”. It designates a pupil who steals repeatedly or their one small theft was accompanied by other risk behaviour (3 or more risk behaviours). Tomášek (2010, p. 92) states that between individuals (when studying their personality and contexts) who commit one small theft and those who do not is not a significant difference. Kaiser (1996) states that the personality and context will only differ in those who steal repeatedly. Out of the sample of 380 respondents in the age 11-15 years 53 pupils (14.07%) had experience with risk theft. Foreign research has found theft rates wit pupils of similar age ranging from 5.3–23.53% (Barberete et al., 2010; Boxford, 2015; Zhang et al., 2016). The range is too wide and originates in different develops formulations in questionnaires studying thefts. In the Czech Republic we can make an approximate comparison only with the research outcomes of Dolejš and Orel (2017) who found out, using a self–report study, that 23.53 % pupils in the age 11–15 years confess to some kind of theft (not only in a school environment). The difference of 9.5 % in respective values pertains to pupils who steal in a different environment than school. These are mostly pickpockets and thefts in shops.

Figure 1: First thefts and pupils´ age
First thefts and pupils´ age
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Figure 01 shows the pupils´ age in which they confess to their first theft. The item in the questionnaire was formulated retrospectively. The answer may therefore show certain distortion connected with the remembering and forgetting process. Compared to the research in England, Wales, Spain and the Netherlands (Barberete et al., 2010) the children in the Czech Republic commit their first theft on average two years earlier than in the above mentioned countries, that is at the age of 11 years. Vágnerová (2017) refers to the research of Heřmanovská and describes the increase of thefts of the 12-year-olds. It is interesting to notice the age of 6 years when children experience the move from kindergarten to elementary school and when the number of first thefts rises. At the age of 7 it declines. Regarding the age it is important to note that a real theft can only occur once a child is in such a stage of mental development that they understand the meaning of ownership and are able to accept the norm of behaviour that distinguishes between handling one´s own things and somebody else´s (Vágnerová, 2017). Therefore, a certain part of the 6-year-old children shows behaviour that we cannot be classified as a real theft.

Just like in the Cardiff Study (Boxford, 2015) the most commonly stolen things in a school environment in the Czech Republic are school supplies. Among the supplies were things such as pens, protractors, rubbers, pencils, textbooks, markers, brushes, pencil sharpeners, paints and rulers. Second come snacks, and food in general. The list continues with toys, talismans, money, shoes, mobile phones, candies. There rarely occurred clothes, knives, drinks or playing cards. These findings must be viewed from the point of view of both the pupils´ age and school environment. Although the stolen things are not of a big momentary value, children see them as important, and if stolen, can disturb their feeling of safety and the possibility to fully concentrate on learning.

The most common reason for theft at school was taking revenge on the owner (17), followed by the inability to solve the problem in any other way than to take the thing I need without letting the owner know, this seemed the fastest and easiest way (15). Further there were claims such as “I want the thing and cannot get it in any other way” (11), which may connect to the theory of Merton and the inability to get things in a legal way and with social-economic theories which show delinquency as a consequence of financial differences between people. The fourth place takes the statement “by mistake” (8). Čírtková (2013) describes an interesting thing from one of the theories of criminal activity mainly in first-time offenders. It is a research of chaos where the key element is a chance. A chance is described here as a situation which we cannot foresee. Something happens as a coincidence which we did not plan but it happened and it does not accord with any psychological and sociological rules which we might anticipate. Another reason was social relationships “because of the others” (7). The situational factor is represented by the statement “An opportunity came up “(4). Other reasons mentioned were “for fun” (4) and “I was put up to it” (2). In these reasons one can see the connection with bullying or classroom relationships.

Professional sources state that the motivation of children and the youth to criminal acts outside the school environment are most commonly profit-seeking motives, sociologists and criminologists say that second come low legal conscience of the juvenile offenders including the mistrust in the police´s ability to solve the crime. Third come the motive of revenge and envy followed by boredom and need for adventure and adrenaline (Večerka et al., 2004).

The results of this research lead to the conclusion is clearly evident that in the school environment where the pupils know one another, spend time together, form relationships; this is so especially in the case when a pupil wants to revenge on somebody but also evident in the items “because of others”, “I was put up to it” or “courage test”. The list continues with infrequent reasons pupils give for thefts: “courage test“, “why not” and “I do not know”. These reasons should be taken tentatively. An immature child is immature can give situational reasons for their theft – an opportunity came up. However, deeper exploration can reveal different reasons.

In 55 cases out of 60 the assumption of a high latency of thefts at school has been confirmed (Sobotkova et al., 2014). The people who learnt about the theft in few cases are as expected pupils, friends and schoolmates (7). The difference is very small from the other group of the acquainted people who are parents (6), victims (5), teachers (4) and in one case an after-school educator. In the studied sample not a single theft was reported and solved by the Police of the Czech Republic. Pupils admitted they were punished for the theft 9 times.

The result of regression analysis – significant variables of personal, school, and family contexts

In order to find the answer to the research question “How does committing a risk-theft at schools in the Moravian-Silesian Region depend on the chosen variables of personal, family, and school contexts of pupils?”, logistic regression was used, which models the relationship between an alternative (0–1) dependent variable and a larger number of explanatory independent variables (regressors). Table 02 will be presented step by step; both its individual columns and significant variable of personal, family, and school contexts of the pupils who steal in a school environment.

The second row of the table contains a constant. Constant is an intercept has no influence on the interpretation of other variables. The second column is named coefficient. It is a regression coefficient (parameter), often referred to as beta . Easier interpretation of these numbers is through the column OR. In the third column is a so-called s.e. – a standard error of regression coefficient. This concept measures uncertainity in its calculation. It is also used for calculating p-values and confidence intervals. P-value shows the statistical significance of regression coefficients, i.e. pinpoints relevant variables (regressors). The smaller this number, the more significant the relationship between the variables is. Usually, the coefficients with p-value 0.05 and smaller are regarded significant. Stars are used to mark certain significance levels: the more stars, the more significant the coefficient/variable.

OR is an abbreviation for odds ratio . It is calculated as exp(beta) . This coefficient has the following interpretation in the model: “If all the other variables in the model remain unchanged, then with the increase of the given variable by one unit (on the appropriate scale, e.g. by one point on the scale), the chances of theft increase/decrease OR times, in other words it increases/decreases by (OR – 1)·100 percent.“ The chance is defined as p /(1 – p ), where p is the probability of theft. The 95% confidence interval for odds ratio covers the real value of OR with probability 95 %. The OR value from the previous column is only an estimate and therefore contains error. The interval tries to locate more accurately where the actual OR value might be. The interpretation of the interval if it does not cover the number 1 is such that the influence of the variable on thefts has been proved (at the confidence level 95 %). Further, the shorter the interval the better, because it indicates the reduction in estimate´s uncertainty. Deviance is the quality measure of the model as a whole.

Table 2 -
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The final model of logistic regression shown in Table 02 features the ten variables that achieved the significance level of 10% when all the variables were included in the preliminary model. The table shows that not all the variables in this model with ten regressors are of the same importance. Four variables were at the significance level 5 % ( relationship to school, self-control, tension in family and other manifestations of risk behaviour ), which we can regard the most important from the point of view of thefts at school. The coincidence (not necessarily causal) between them and thefts can be considered validated. At the given significance level two other variables ( social learning in family and delinquent friends ) came up, which can be regarded marginally significant. As regards described theories of delinquency the following theories are the key theories for thefts at school committed by pupils:

  • Problem Behaviour Theory (Jessor, 1991),

  • General Theory of Crime (Gottfredson a Hirschi, 1990),

  • General Strain Theory (Agnew, 2009) mainly focused on family context,

  • Social Control Theory and Social Bond Theory (Hirschi, 1969) focused on school environment with secondary emphasize on social learning in family and control in family.

  • Merton´s Anomie Theory can be regarded as complementary (Merton, 1968) supplemented by Rossenfeld and Messnerat the beginning of the 21st century (2009).

According to the Problem Behaviour Theory the risk factor in children´s behaviour will be not only in thefts at school but also in other areas such as truancy, fights, vandalism, self-harm, substance abuse such as alcohol and tobacco. The following interpretation is possible based on the regression model: With the increase of risk behaviour of pupils by one scale point the chances that the pupil will commit theft increase by 72%, if the values of the other regressors remain constant.

There is a high risk that if pupils steal at school they will also steal in other places. The Problem Behaviour Theory closely relates to risk lifestyle including delinquent friends. The pupils living a risky lifestyle are more often victims of delinquency and thefts.

The General Theory of Crime considers low self-control to be the main characteristic enabling the tendency to delinquent behaviour. These people do not think over the consequence of their actions, they take quick actions, they like excitement and adrenaline. Excitement is more important for them than safety. They like taking risk, they are inconsiderate to other people. Low self-control is a risk factor even for pupils who commit risk thefts in a school environment. The regression model offers the following interpretation: “If the pupil´s value of low self-control increases by one scale point, the chance that the pupils will commit theft at school increases by 16 % if the values of the remaining regressors remain constant. “

The General Strain Theory points out the possible loss of positive stimuli in a family environment containing divorce, parents´ disputes, loss of a close person, illness or substance abuse in family. The tension causes negative attitude to important people both in school and family environment. Theft may work as one of the possible tension releasers. The regression model enables the following interpretation: If the tension in family increases by one scale point, the chances that the pupil will commit theft at school grows by 42 %, if the values of the remaining regressors remain constant.

Low attachment to school will be another risk factor at school. The pupils who do not have closer relationships to their schoolmates, do not have a favourite teacher, find school boring and do not feel well at school, are among those who commit risk thefts. Important elements in family environment of these pupils are low parent control (parents do not check on their homework, do not know their child´s friends, do not know where their child is and what they do).

From the point of view of the Merton Anomie Theory, the pupils who commit risk-thefts in a school environment are often those who do not have the possibility to achieve their own goals in a legal way. If they crave something, they cannot count on getting it from their parents, they cannot influence much where they go with their parents for trips, or they are denied discussing things they are interested in.

Conclusion

Not always do the pupils who stole something at school become criminals when they become adults. Still the experience with this behaviour, its solution and further disciplinary procedures which the pupils experience at school can mean either inclining to or diverting from the delinquency career in future. The incidence of pupils who steal risky (they steal repeatedly or their one-time theft is connected with three and more types of risk behaviour) is more than 14% in Czech schools. The research confirmed that most thefts at school are latent. Frequently stolen things are school supplies, textbooks, pens, paints, markers but also snacks or money. The age of first thefts is declining in the Czech environment. Pupils at the age of 11 years have the biggest experience with stealing.

Thefts in school environment differ from thefts in different environments mainly by the motives which the pupils who steal realize. The profit-seeking motive does not come first as we might assume but first come the motives connected with the interaction among children. Children steal because they want to revenge or settle scores. Another motive is because of the others or just for fun. The research studied only the realized motivation for stealing. So that for example immaturity of some children as a reason for thefts or compensation for the feeling of loss which are presented mainly by psychological analytical schools (e.g.Tyminski, 2013) remain hidden.

Logistic regression model pointed out significant variables of personal, family and school context of pupils who risk steal. The following four variables may be regarded the most important: attachment to school, self-control, tension in family and other manifestations of risk behaviour which may be regarded as important from the point of view of the theft context. Two other variables found themselves on the edge of the significance level: social learning in family and delinquent friends.

On the basis of research we can view pupils who risk steal as children who have some kind of problem in their lives and do not know how to cope with it. They are often children with low self-control, who experience tension in family and also have poor bonds at school. These children do not steal only, there are other risk behaviour characteristics: aggression, self-aggression, they experiment with alcohol and drugs, play truant or vandalize things. They often realize they rob their schoolmate because of revenge or finding their place in the class.

What can this information convey to teachers? We can argue about the trends aimed at working with the youth in crime prevention in schools only in situational factors (installing cameras, security systems, strengthening patrols in corridors), which has been a strengthening theft prevention method in schools e.g. in the USA in the last 20 years (Zhang et al., 2016). The system of disciplinary actions in Czech schools based on marks, official reprimands of the class teacher or head teacher or bad mark from behaviour (Richterová, 2017). From the point of view of the research these are not among the most effective disciplinary measures and neglect work with family, personal a school context of thefts.

If we want to work with children who risk steal we need to deal with personal development, mutual communication abilities, cooperation and problem shooting at schools. These children need to strengthen their relation to school through positive relationship to teachers as well as schoolmates. They should also receive an imposing alternative how to spend time in other ways than with their friends who tolerate or are active in delinquent behaviour. We can be helped by the knowledge that the children experience tension in their home environment and school environment might help them by means of secondary socializing in their self development and deviation from the delinquency career.

Acknowledgments

This research was carried out as a part of the dissertation thesis of the author and was defended in November 2017 at Palacky University in Olomouc. The thesis supervisor was Štefan Chudý. Statistical data of the regression model were processed by Ivo Müller. The following abbreviations were used: ČR – The Czech Republic, MSK – Moravian- Silesian Region.

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Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2019.01.29

Online ISSN

2357-1330