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Research on Offender Decision-Making and Desistance From Crime

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $363,848)

Statement of the Problem. Theories of criminal behavior emphasize different thinking styles as a key factor that underlies offenders' motivation to commit crime. Relevant disciplines (sociology, behavioral economics, psychology, etc.) differentially focus on whether offenders (a) believe crime's rewards outweigh its costs, (b) perceive crime as a legitimate response to their circumstances, (c)consider non-criminal opportunities, or (d) behave without thinking (impulsively or emotionally). Researchers have not integrated these elements into one cohesive explanation of how thinking styles predict criminal behavior while utilizing a longitudinal design. Participants, Partnerships, & Research Design. This study proposes to gather self-report questionnaire data from offenders living in the community on probation or parole. First, we will conduct small focus groups with offenders at three sites (Austin, TX; Des Moines, IA; San Francisco, CA) to investigate participants' reported decisions to commit crime versus abstain from crime. Second, 450 offenders (150 per site) will be asked to self-report their personal perception on the costs and benefits of crime, costs and benefits of attempting to stay crime-free, attitudes, impulsive traits, and emotions. Because it is important to understand how changes in thinking are related to simultaneous improvements (or deterioration) in criminal behavior, each individual will complete questionnaires three times across six months. Non-staff research assistants will be hired at each probation site to ensure the data is collected at scheduled time intervals with fidelity. Offenders will be given a gift card each time they participate as an incentive to ensure data are collected at multiple time points for each individual. Analysis. Analyses will test whether thinking patterns are related to behavior ratings recorded by supervision officers, and official records of reoffending collected over a one-year period. We propose statistical models (structural equation models) that will build an integrated theory of offender thinking styles by examining (a) how each element changes across time, (b) which elements are most related to success in the community, and (c) which elements interact with each other to best predict reoffending. Reports & Data. The resulting dataset will be unique in this field for including multiple variables from multiple theories, assessed simultaneously in a large at-risk offender sample across time. The final report will describe and comment on several theoretical perspectives from multiple disciplines, and provide a guide for future research. This project is designed to impact knowledge about which thinking styles should be targeted during offender rehabilitation and community supervision. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 15, 2014