U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Crime in Emerging Adulthood: Continuity and Change in Criminal Offending

NCJ Number
Date Published
50 pages
This analysis of the relationships between criminal offending and changes in personal circumstances during young adulthood used data on 524 serious offenders from the California Youth Authority over a 7-year post-parole period, starting when the youths were in their late teens to early 20’s.
The research resulted from the theoretical debate over the extent to which local life circumstances, including marriage, employment, drug use, alcohol use, and street time, influence criminal offending. Some criminologists contend that the relationship between these circumstances and criminal offending is spurious in that individual differences can explain the relationship. Other criminologists argue that local life circumstances exert a meaningful effect on criminal offending, even after controlling for individual differences. This study extended previous research by developing and applying an empirical model that accounted for the joint distribution of violent and nonviolent criminal offending during the late teens and early 20’s. Results revealed that even among this high-risk sample, not all individuals persisted in criminal activity. The criminal trajectory was on a downswing for the majority of the 524 serious offenders in this study as they approached their late 20’s. Findings challenged proponents of Three Strikes or life-term policies. Findings were more consistent with theoretical models that provide for a combination of persistent heterogeneity and state-dependent effects of social control and self-control mechanisms than with other theoretical models. Thus, many serious offenders can recover from their criminal trajectories and desist from crime as they enter adulthood; early identification of the relevant factors remains a high priority for researchers and policymakers. Figures, tables, footnotes, and 81 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000