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Can a Leopard Change its Spots? Continuity and Change in Criminal Offending Patterns among Three Samples of Serious Chronic Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2002
550 pages
This study examined patterns of stability (continuity) and change (discontinuity) across the life courses of serious young offenders in California.
Overall, the results for all three samples under examination indicated a significant change in the nature of criminal offending patterns across age as well as across latent classes. Both stability and change were shown to be necessary for explaining the pattern of criminal offending across the life course. The findings suggest that the failure to accurately capture the age effects within a sample will cause a severe overestimation of the estimated state dependence effect. The findings also favor a mixed position in which the general importance of both population heterogeneity and state dependence processes on the criminal trajectory were acknowledged. Policy implications are discussed and the authors observed that no evidence has been produced to indicate that policies that have increased the probability of arrest, punishment severity, and average length of sentence have significantly deterred the likelihood of subsequent criminal behavior. Data were drawn from three large databases of serious youthful offenders released from the California Youth Authority. The main dependent variable under examination was the number of arrest charges during each age-year. Three main issues were examined: (1) the stability of individual differences in the propensity to commit criminal offenses across the life course; (2) the number of discrete groups of offenders with distinct age-crime curves; and (3) the relationship between criminal activity and adjacent ages, controlling for persistent individual differences in the propensity to offend. Data analysis techniques included semiparametric finite mixture Poisson models, parametric random effects, and standard negative binomial models. Future research should explore the mechanisms underlying the changes displayed in the nature of offending trajectories. Footnotes, tables, figures, appendixes, references

Date Published: October 1, 2002