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Crime in Emerging Adulthood

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 40 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 137-170
Date Published
February 2002
34 pages

This study used data on 524 serious offenders under the California Youth Authority (CYA) for a 7-year post-parole period to examine the relationship between changes in local life circumstances and criminal activity.


For each individual, information was obtained on counts of criminal arrests and exposure time. The study focused on the joint distribution of violent and nonviolent offenses for which arrests were made. Individuals in the sample were coded for the number of months they were not serving time in jail, prison, or in CYA detention; otherwise, they were coded as being under some form of correctional supervision. Data on life circumstances were collected from CYA case files. Information was collected on alcohol dependence, heroin dependence, full-time employment, and marriage. During the course of each of the 7 years of post-parole observation, individuals were given a score of 1 if they were involved in each of the four respective local life circumstances; if they were not involved in a particular local life circumstance, they received a score of 0 on that particular indicator. Thus, the local life circumstances were coded in terms of change in status. On the whole, the results showed that the criminal trajectory of most parolees decreased as they approached their late 20's, thereby challenging proponents of "three strikes" policies. Results also showed that some of the change in nonviolent arrests was a function of informal social bonds. This is consistent with the view that as individuals transition out of emerging adulthood in their late 20's, instability ceases and more enduring choices in love and work are made. As offenders move through and beyond emerging adulthood, they likely begin to take stock of their past and future lives, such that local life circumstances exert a much different meaning in their 20's than they did in their teens. This study provides evidence that serious offenders can change their criminal patterns and move toward more prosocial outcomes as they enter adulthood. Identification of these factors remains a priority for researchers and policymakers. 8 tables and 56 references

Date Published: February 1, 2002