Department of Sociology, Tartu University, Estonia

Judit Strömpl, Department of Sociology, Tartu University,

78 Tiigi St., EE-2400, Tartu, Estonia

Tel. 372 7 430 809



Journal of Clinical Psychology and Social Pathology. Belgrade.

Vol.3,nr.1­2:344­358, 1996

This article concerns girls exhibiting deviant behaviour in Estonian reformatory schools. Research was conducted for six months among fifty-eight subjects in the sole Estonian school especially catering for girl-offenders. The subjects were divided in to three groupings: "delinquents", the "asocial-ill-mannered", and "victims". These differing groups require their own specific treatment.

Key words: delinquent girls, reformatory school, Estonia


Estonia is one of the Baltic States, which broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The growth of behavioural deviation, and the amount of re-offending among our young people is enough to make one feel uneasy; furthermore, the growth in the role played by girls in juvenile delinquency is terrifying (Leps 1991, Nurmela 1994). This figure has risen to 10%, which is twice as much as it was before (in the 70-80-s, the part played by girls in the total figure of juvenile delinquency was 5-6% on average)("Postimees" 1995). In this connection my interest in investigating what makes girls behave in deviate ways arose. All the more so as this realm has not been greatly investigated. Girls' behavioural deviation has not been especially investigated since 1975 (Kojtla 1975).

I sought the answer in Kaagvere reformatory school, which is an educational establishment in Estonia for girls who have broken the law. Because of the position of the girls, society observes their behaviour as deviant.

Procedure and method of the study

I used the case study method. The cases were based on interviews made during the period from October 1993 - April 1994. At that time there were 58 pupils in the school, 30 of them were in classes where lessons are held in Estonian, and 28 were in classes where lessons are in Russian. During the study, each pupil was interviewed separately.

To carry out the interview, I used an official standard interview, which was developed for the study of Canadian youth (for the examination of juvenile delinquents within the framework of probation in order to compile individual case-study) "The Youth level of service interview (Draft)". The questionnaire was translated into Estonian and Russian, and the part connected with living conditions and school was adapted.

The questionnaire consisted of parts, by the help of which it was possible to study the following questions, connected with the children's life and personality.

In addition to the girls' own estimations, another source of information was the school psychologist, who helped to verify factual data. Most of the information the girls gave was true, only a few of them used the opportunity to express their dreams, and what they wished for themselves. As a rule their wishes were connected with their family and home. Only two girls fantasized about themselves.

One realm, in which we may doubt in the reliability of the data, is regarding prostitution. None of the girls confessed that she had been engaged in prostitution. This theme was surprisingly unpleasant for them. There may also be inexactitude in the data connected with sexual-life, which is a very intimate realm of life, and is hardly verifiable.

As there is only one special school in Estonia for delinquent girls, this means that all those girls who were institutionalized in Estonia at that time have been investigated.

Table 1

Results of the study

The study showed that the reasons for the deviations in the children's behaviour were primarily connected with the environment in which their socialization took place. The most important part of this environment is the family. Causes, based within the family, can be divided into two classes : open and concealed. The open causes in the family, which encourage behavioural deviations, can be considered to be the deviation behaviour of the parents (primarily alcoholism), bad example (criminal subculture), an unorganized, asocial home or not having a home (being in a children's home). The concealed reasons may include some problems within family, which are hidden from the outside world - peculiar diseases of family, the symptoms of which is the child's behaviour.

The high level of behavioural deviations among the girls' siblings who were investigated, enables us to suppose that there are families, who seem to produce children with behavioural deviations, or that kind of children, whose socialization process is abnormal.

The other people, who belong to the girls' environment, can be distinctly divided into two groups. On one side are those who get into trouble or are in their own way "victims of fate" (40%), who do not manage their lives and who fail in everything; on the other side are those who cause trouble or who are people with an "evil spirit" (38%). Only 22% of those who answered, said that to make this distinction between the people who surrounded them would have no meaning for them. This distinction enables us to suppose that we have to deal with, on the one hand, passive persons, who can't manage their lives, and, on the other, with active people, who are antisocial.

Another essential realm of life, where the socialization of children takes place, is school. The present study indicates that the child who comes to school with problem conditioned by the family, will have problems at school too. These school problems are, primarily, making little progress at school, breaking discipline and absence from school.

During the interview was the fact was ascertained that the child's adaptation difficulties, or risk of adaptation difficulties, certainly become obvious at school. It means, that if a child has some kind of problems, then those will be clearly expressed at school. Here the need arises to work out at school such programmes and forms of work as can help pupils to solve their adaptation problems.

The data concerning the pupils of our special school show both their low self-esteem (53%) and incorrectly high self-esteem (35%). Only 12% of those who answered thought that there are better or worse people than themselves.

It is remarkable that the behaviour of this contingent depends so strongly, firstly, on the mood of the moment, secondly, on particular people and thirdly upon circumstances. "It depends on my mood", "It depends on people" - were frequent answers. This is to say that mood regulates the behaviour of the girls. One girl even claimed that she wasn't guilty, but rather this mood was, which makes her act on spur of the moment. From the talk of the girls, it became evident that some people have a powerful influence and thus affect their behaviour, though some of the girls did not agree with this and asserted that nobody could have an effect on them.

The girls had noticeably high aggressiveness, which was expressed not only by physical reactions to failure (48%), but also by the use of aggressive methods to solve problems: fights, crying as communication with other people. This is emphasized by the high level of parasuicide in the reformatory school (47%), which is both, a way of escape and also a form of aggression directed against oneself.

Investigating the pupils in the reformatory school, it became obvious that a number of them (24%) are not law-breakers at all. Also it became obvious that most of the pupils of special school need to be treated specially : some of them need correction at the level of personality, some need protection from their unfavourable environment, some simply need the upbringing they are missing, and some of them need all of the above.

On the basis of the case-studies, compiled by means of interviews, the pupils of special school were divided into different groups according to three characteristics. These characteristics were: delinquency, asociality and being a victim (victimity). Delinquency can be estimated as the most essential characteristic, because the special school is meant for girls who have broken the law. So, we can see that delinquency characterizes 44 (76%) of all the pupils at the reformatory school, asociality - 40 (69%) and victimity - 16 (26%). The girls may simultaneously belong to different groups by having one, two or three of these characteristics (see tab.2.)

Table 2

According to which characteristic is dominant, the pupils can all be divided into three groups. These groups can conventionally be called "delinquents" (if the delinquency is dominant), "asocial-ill-mannered" (if the most essential factor was coming from asocial family) and "victims" (if her presence in the special school was caused by her being a victim or insecure outside.)

This division is very important when proceeding according to the need of differential treatment.

13 girls (23% of whole), whose environment, at least formally, might not have caused behavioural deviations, and who were not victims, formed a group.

The most numerous was the group of "asocial-ill-mannered",

40(69%) girls, 29 of them showed delinquency in their behaviour, or those girls who came from asocial enviroment and whose behaviour was at the same time delinquent. 11 girls from this group were "victims" - and had suffered from family violence.

To the undoubted victim's group belonged 5 girls (9%), 2 of them (3%) inclined to delinquency in their behaviour.


The first group is formed by girls, who by behaviour and nature are so-called classic delinquents, or children with clearly antisocial behaviour. Those girls who have repeatedly had problems with the forces of law and order and with the organs of legal protection, who also have a secondary deviancy (identity of delinquent's ego) belong to this group. The organs of legal protection sent them to Kaagvere. The statutes of the school, its teaching and educational methods have been worked out bearing this kind of contingent in mind. The continued presence of these girls in the special school is for two purposes: punishment and improvement.

In terms of their social background, they may come both from normal families (who are not characterized by antisocial behaviour), or from deviant families.

Investigating the biographies of the girls who belong to this group, we can observe concealed family problems and/or troubles at a different level of development. The families of these children are characterized by weak connections inside the family, which is further confirmed by, on the one hand, the girls' insufficiently provided information about the nature of family life and their parents (specially about their fathers), and, on the other, by the parents' insufficiently provided information about the life of their children (the parents don't know where and with whom is the child outside the home or what is she engaged in doing.) This is also confirmed by an unpleasant domestic atmosphere (a repelling attitude on behalf of one or both parents and/or violence), which leads the child to run away from home. There is difference between declared values and reality: if a mother's unconditional love is lacking, there will be an enormous emotional deficit. Some parents' "love" is expressed only by guaranteeing material welfare. One girl said that the motive of her behaviour was that she received everything from her parents, everything she wanted: "they simply spoiled me". As a rule it is "material spoiling".


Numerically, this is the largest group (40 girls). Here belong girls from so-called asocial families or those who had no family at all (pupils from children's home), i.e. the girls whose socialization was hindered by various (primarily enviromental) factors independent of them. We can notice the following problems among these girls due to insufficient socialization:

- the absence of moral standards

- an inadequate scale of values

- the absence of knowledge about living standards

- the lack of behaviour skills

- difficulties in communication.

These girls may be divided into delinquents and victims, as being delinquent prevents one from being a victim.


To this so-called "victims" group belong those girls, who are in the special school, not because of their unlawful behaviour, but because that their life outside the school is dangerous. These are the victims of violence, victims of rape, children of alcoholics, those who have no place to live. Those girls whose behavioural deviations were caused by some kind of psychological trauma (for example sexual violence) also belong in this group.

In answering the question of what are the needs of children with behavioural deviations, we can assert that these needs are different depending upon the group.

As follows:

- the "victims" need protection, i.e. a safe environment and psychotherapeutic help at an individual level, to cure the psychotraumas they have;

- the "asocial-ill-mannered" need a decent upbringing and a suitable environment for socialization;

- the "delinquents" need correction at the level of their personalities and a suitable environment.

All three groups require a "suitable environment", which actually means that the work most necessary is to improve the social and domestic environment, which is the task of regional social policy.

The special school is not the right place for such "victims", in whose behaviour deviations are not evident. It would be better to solve their problems with the help of the organs of child welfare, which act in their places of residence, by school social workers and psychologists. It is evident that in these cases the problem is not connected with the child, but with the environment.

Ideally, Estonian society needs now at least two types of special schools: a reformatory school for the correction of delinquents and a boarding-school, where the children from asocial families can be protected from family violence and still can get the necessary upbringing. It will be effective, if at the same time there is also family correction. For the results of these schools to be effective, integration with functioning laws must be ensured. This integration should embrace social work within the environment of children with behavioural deviations: family- and school social work and social work at the place of residence to guarantee reintegration.

For as long as there are no laws in the state nor any competent organs for this work, institutions similar to the special school can partly assume the role of bringing up asocial children, but by all means using an individual-centred approach and differential treatment. "Delinquents" and the "asocial-ill-mannered" must be treated separately, i.e. they might learn in different classrooms, live in different rooms, work in different groups. Their meeting one another might be only infrequent. Otherwise it may turn out that the "delinquents" are better teachers for the "asocials" than the teachers of the school. The criterion for making the dividing line ought to be the existence of the secondary deviation - delinquent identity.

In any case it is desirable to use an individual-centred approach in the case of every child who is sent to the special school.

First of all, it is necessary to identify their problems and find the most suitable working methods for their treatment.

The investigation brought out some typical problems, which can be noticed in both "delinquents" and the "asocial-ill-mannered":

- a lack of moral standards;

- a low development of normal manners;

- inadequate communication skills;

- an inadequate perception of self and reality;

- a shortfall in problem-solving skills;

- a deficiency of positive thinking;

- emotions lacking checks and balances;

- dependency problems.

These are deficiencies, which can be solved by using pedagogical, psychological and social-work methods, for example by forms of individual and group-work (also self-help groups). In western countries they have been used successfully following effective working methods: the modelling of positive ways of behaviour, communication training, problem-solving training, and so on (Basta & others 1988, Garrido-Genoves & Redondo 1993). The investigation shows that at the present moment the special school succesfully fulfils the following functions:

- the prevention of the girls' own antisocial behaviour;

- the protection the society from girls who behave antisocially;

- the protection of girls from unfavourable social environments;

- playing the role of the missing social control over the girls;

- the partial complementing of the deficiency in girls upbringing.

At the same time it would be possible to enhance the results of the special school by:

- adopting contemporary pedagogical, psychological and social work methods, wich would ensure the girl's preparation for independent life;

- an individual approach to the pupils;

- differential treatment of them.

To conclude :

- at the present time, in Estonian society, not every child is guaranteed equally favorable conditions for socialization;

- the institutions of integration (family and education) do not fulfill their main functions perfectly;

- the security of children, who suffer from family violence, outside special institutions (the main function of which is the correction of personality, but not protection), is insufficiently guaranteed;

- the necessary security system for reintegration after leaving the reformatory school, which could help to preserve the results of the special school, is not ensured.

These deficiencies could be avoided by:

- well-reasoned anticipatory work in the shape of family- and school social work;

- creating alternative schools and educational institutions;

- a differential approach to children's problems and needs in special educational institutions;

- a bettering of the co-operation between reformatory schools and child welfare institutions (for instance, the children's service of social-help institutions of town and country);

- a more careful attitude from the competent state organs and government to children's problems, so that when making and implementing laws, there will be no savings made in the children's budget.


B a s t a, J.M. & D a v i d s o n, W.S.II,1988. Treatment of Juvenile Offenders: Study Outcomes Since 1980, in: Behavioral Sciences & the Law, Vol.6,No.3

K o j t l a, T.,1975. O prestupnosti devotšek v Estonskoj SSR [Juvenile female criminality in the Estonian Soviet Republic]. - Sov.pravo, no 5, s. 351

L e p s, A.,1991. Kuritegevus Eestis. [Crime in Estonia] Tartu.

N u r m e l a, E.,1994. Alaealiste kuritegevus Eestis läbi aastate [Juvenile criminality in Estonia down the years]. -

In: Kuritegevus ja kriminaal-preventsioon Eestis. [Crime and crime-prevention in Estonia] Tallinn.

"P o s t i m e e s",1995,nr.16.20.jaanuar.

Table 1

Age of the girls who were interviewed

Age abs. number %

12-years 1 2

13-y. 8 14

14-y. 16 26

15-y. 23 40

16-y. 9 16

17-y. 1 2

Table 2 *



Pupils of the special school

58 (100%)



+ -

44 (76%) 14 (24%)

_______________________________________________________________ A S O C I A L I T Y A S O C I A L I T Y + - + - 29(50%) 15(26%) 11(19%) 3(5%)



+ - + - + - + -

0(0%) 29(50%) 2(3%) 13(23%) 11(19%) 0(0%) 3(5%) 0(0%)


*In the figures, given in the table, the first is the absolute number of the girls, the second, the percentage;

"+" the characteristic is present; "-" the characteristic is not present.