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Bulletin 2: Criminal Career Patterns (Study Group on the Transitions Between Juvenile Delinquency and Adult Crime)

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2013
34 pages
This second of six bulletins on the findings from the National Institute of Justice Study Group on the Transitions From Juvenile Delinquency and Adult Crime (the "Study Group") focuses on several key criminal-career dimensions that link offending patterns in adolescence to those in adulthood, including prevalence, frequency, continuity, adult-onset, specialization, diversification, escalation and de-escalation, stability and change, and co-offending.
Regarding prevalence, although most individuals self-report involvement in some form of delinquent or criminal behavior by early adulthood, official records from police contacts, arrests, and convictions yield a much smaller prevalence estimate (about 20-40 percent). Unlike prevalence trends, which show relatively consistent evidence of peaks in early to late adolescence and a gradual decrease after age 18, the individual offending frequency appears to vary according to several characteristics, including sample composition, measures of offending, and time periods observed; however, individual offending frequency apparently peaks in late adolescence. Most studies reveal strong continuity in offending, particularly in adjacent time periods; the strength of this continuity increases linearly with the number of offenses previously committed. Perhaps because scholars note the rarity of adult onset of offending only a few empirical studies have examined adult-onset offending. Trends in specialization, diversification, and escalation suggest there is little specific concentration within offense types among most offenders; it is premature to draw any firm conclusions regarding the nature of specialization over age and time. Regarding stability and change in offending, there is strong evidence of a population heterogeneity in explaining the link between past to future crime. Life events are also a factor. There is a paucity of empirical studies on co-offending. A key priority for further research involves collecting self-report data. This bulletin recommends priorities for future research. Among policy recommendations is a preference for shorter sentences, since criminal careers tend to be of short duration. 52 references

Date Published: July 1, 2013