Anticipation of dying early is inspiring youngsters to commit crimes, a new study suggests.
Georgia State University Criminal Justice experts Timothy Brezina, Volkan Topalli and economist Erdal Tekin, in their study titled 'Might not be a Tomorrow', insist that young criminals have put their faith in the idea "here and now," even though they are aware of the consequences of committing crime.
Topalli said: "It turns out that if you boil it all down the more you think you are going to die young the more likely it is that you are going to engage in criminality and violence.
"This is the opposite of what most people think, because most people think that if you think you're going to die soon you become depressed and you wouldn't commit crimes."
As part of the study, the professors quizzed more than 30 young offenders in some of Atlanta's toughest neighbourhoods.
The participants' perception of risk, with an emphasis on the risk of future injury and early death were noted.
Brezina said: "Many had been shot or stabbed and bore visible scars of physical trauma. They also expressed what criminologists refer to as a "coercive" worldview; in their eyes, they occupy a dog-eat-dog world where it is acceptable if not necessary to use force to intimidate others and to prevent victimization."
Topalli explained: "They live in neighborhoods that are kind of like war zones. They grew up hearing gun shots, seeing people die and hearing ambulances and police cars.
"Just about every young person we talked to had seen a dead body, and either has fired a weapon or has been fired upon in some context. Over 70 percent of them have been victimized themselves, which is far greater than the larger population. The majority of them won't die early, but the illusion is that you will and it's reinforced by the culture."
The experts analyzed data, involving responses from more than 20,000 adolescents between seventh and 12th-grade, of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also known as Add Health.
Topalli said: "The results from the Add Health study mirrored the results from the interviews."
Brezina concluded: "It seems unlikely that threats of harsher criminal justice penalties will deter these fearless offenders. They assume life is short anyway and willingly accept the risks associated with a criminal lifestyle-even death.
"An alternative approach is to confront the pervasive violence and other social ills that so many inner-city children confront in their daily lives-conditions that deflate hope and breed crime in the first place."
The study has been published in the December edition of Criminology, a top international journal in the field of Criminal Justice.