The purposes of the proposed research are to support the next two years of the Pathways to Desistance study, an ongoing investigation of the ways in which serious adolescent offenders stop their involvement in crime and make successful transitions to adulthood. This study is a multi-site, collaborative, longitudinal research project following 1,354 serious juvenile offenders, examining factors related to positive and negative psychological and behavioral outcomes. The study identifies variations in patterns of desistance from antisocial activity and examines the role of social context, developmental change, and system involvement in promoting change. The study provides empirical information needed to improve decision-making by court and social service personnel about juveniles' future risk and amenability to treatment, as well as guidance for important, ongoing policy debates about alternative approaches for dealing with serious young offenders.
All but a few members of the study sample have now been followed for over five years (from an average age of 16 at enrollment to a current mean age of 21). The long term research plan is to gather data covering an eight-year period after court involvement, so that participants will average 24 years of age at the end of data collection. The length of this follow-up period is dictated by prior research, which indicates that significant desistance from criminal activity occurs in the early-20s for most individuals, and that many of the potential factors that might precipitate desistance from antisocial activity (e.g., marriage, steady employment) do not occur with great frequency until the early or mid-20s. Thus, the mid-20s is the critical age end point necessary to identify desistance from criminal offending as well as the events that promote this process.
This research project collects rich data regarding numerous topics of direct relevance to intervention efforts with serious adolescent offenders as they become young adults. These include extensive information regarding the nature and consequences (both positive and negative) of offenders' involvement with services and their experiences and perception of sanctions. In addition, the sample contains a large proportion of minority offenders (both African-American and Latino), allowing for analyses of differential effects of system involvement on individuals from different ethnic groups. Of equal importance, this study also establishes an infrastructure for future secondary data analyses by other investigators; creating the most comprehensive, complete longitudinal data set regarding serious offenders available to date.