Skip to main content

The Jack-Roller

The Jack-Roller is an important social studies book and even though it was originally published in 1930, it is still used in social research today. It is an important tool in the study of juvenile delinquency.

The tern jack roller "was a guy who hung around the skid row sections of big cities and robbed those unwise enough to get visibly drunk by beating them up and stealing their valuables. He "rolled drunks," and was called a Jack Roller". From our Urban dictionary, this is a definition from the early 1900s.

Social Learning Theory

If you are a student of social issues and especially one that targets juvenile issues, The Jack-Roller is a must read. It is a classic example of social learning theory. This paper looks at the causes and subsequently the effects of those causes.

The subject, named Stanley, ( a fictitious name give by Shaw) was interviewed by the author, Clifford Shaw, in great detail. The interview began when Stanley was 16 and lasted until he was about 22.

This interview was one of about 200 interviews Shaw conducted with juveniles. Stanley was a juvenile that stood out and Shaw continued these interviews and the results were informative and amazing. Even though the book is dated, it continues to offer a real look at Social Learning Theory.

The Jack-Roller

The Jack-Roller

Juvenile Delinquency

In the First Stages of Life

The person know as Stanley doesn't remember much about his life forming years (birth to 4). His biological mother died when he was four. His father remarried when he was five. His father remarried out of convenience as he had three children and the stepmother had seven children and her husband had died also.

We are told that his stepmother was abusive and cruel. She would make Stanley and his biological brother and sister stand and wait until her own children had eaten before they could eat, and then it was a mere portion of what was left. Stanley remembered vividly the first time she beat him and the many times that followed, and the horror and fear that he felt.

She also encouraged Stanley to steal and she used the stolen items at their home. “One day my stepmother told William to take me to the railroad yard to break into box-cars.” (52-53). William was Stanley's older step-brother. The stepmother rewarded them for stealing. This was the beginning of the stages of social learning theory as crime was shown to be a positive thing.

His father was gone much of the time, and drank heavily. He made decent wages as an employee of the gas company but these wages went first to his step siblings. Stanley had very little, if no positive learning from his father.

Stanley was always running away from home. He hated his stepmother and preferred living on the street to living with her abuse.

The pattern of this life continued throughout Stanley's life. Although many different aspects of his life are explored in the interview, this covers only the reason of why this life style began and why Stanley found it so attractive.

robbing of potential

robbing of potential

Detention Centers and Their Effects

Stanley loved being in the detention centers. He looked up to the older more experienced boys that had been stealing for years. They taught him much about being a better crook.

Getting caught was almost a reward to Stanley. He had regular meals and care, no beatings or abuse, and got to listen to wonderful adventure stories from the older more experienced boys who had been stealing much longer than he had.

Scroll to Continue

Stanley felt a closeness and a bonding that he didn't feel at home. He was made to feel welcome by the older boys. He learned the art of stealing from these contacts. Stanley was in and out of these juvenile detention centers most of his adolescence life. Every time he was released he would soon run away only to get caught and returned to these centers.

Stanley's reform escalated to different types of reform. After the detention center he went to The Chicago Parental School, then St. Charles Training School, The State Reformatory at Pontiac, then finally the House of Corrections. His love for the closeness he felt vanished as the punishment became harsher.

jack rollers

jack rollers

Community Area Projects

Community Area Projects

Social Theories

Although Stanley was influenced by the social learning theory, it can also be said that the stepmother was heavily influenced by the strain theory. Her encouragement for stealing was a way of getting more than what the already decent wages of her husband could provide for their ten children. Strain Theory can and does link back to Control Theory as the powers in charge create the strain of wanting a better life.

It is easy to see that most of the social theories can and do have a part in building character, and are connected in some level to each other.


The person named as "Stanley" and Clifford R Shaw became lifelong friends. The influence of Shaw helped him to overcome his social learning and to grow into a healthy emotional functioning being. The path that Stanley took in his adolescence life is explored in detail in The Jack-Roller. Not only did Stanley learn from Shaw but Shaw learned from Stanley and the result was a very successful outcome for many juvenile delinquents. The results of these studies are outlined below in the short bio of Clifford R Shaw.

Social Theories

The Author - A short Bio

Clifford R Shaw 1895-1957

Clifford R Shaw was born in 1895 in a farming community in Indiana. At an early age he stole nails from a blacksmith he was working for. The blacksmith asked him what he wanted those nails for, and Shaw replied that he wanted to build a wagon. The blacksmith offered to help him build the wagon instead of berating him for stealing. Shaw referred to this incident as a changing and significant part of his life.

In 1926, Shaw was recommended to lead a sociology research section at the Illinois Department of Public Welfare's Institute for Juvenile Research. This is where his research and interviews with juvenile delinquents began.

"From these studies, Shaw drew the following conclusions, which he used as theses for his later work:

  1. "the problems of delinquency in low income areas is to a large extent the product of the social experiences to which children and young people are customarily exposed."
  2. "effective treatment and prevention can be achieved only so far as constructive changes in community life can be brought about."
  3. "effective rehabilitation entails the reincorporation of the offender into some socially constructive group or groupings in the community."
  4. "in any enterprise which is likely to be effective in bringing about these changes, it is indispensable that local residents, individually and collectively, accept the fullest possible responsibility for defining objectives, formulation of policies, finding financial support, and exercising the necessary control over budgets, personnel and programs." " ( )

Shaw dies in 1957, but his research is still taught and used today in the eradication of juvenile crime.

“Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.”
H. Jackson Brown Jr.

© 2013 Rebecca Shepherd Thomas

Related Articles