U.S. flag

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

Rational Choice, Deterrence, and Identity: Modeling Life Course Transitions and Desistance

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2018
11 pages
Using longitudinal survey data, this study developed models of life-course transitions, offender decisionmaking, and crime.
The study addressed four issues: 1) the conditions under which high-risk young adults undergo life-course transitions, such as high school graduation, transitioning to work, becoming a parent, cohabiting, and marrying; 2) whether the effects of life-course transitions constitute turning points in criminal careers, and if so, under what social conditions; 3) the causal mechanisms that explain why life-course transitions affect desistance; and 4) whether the empirical models developed can identify the specific conditions under which a treatment intervention is likely to succeed. The data used were from the Denver Youth Survey (DYS), a longitudinal study of delinquency, crime, and drug use. The sample is representative of neighborhoods at high risk for delinquency, defined as living in socially disorganized, high-crime neighborhoods. The major contribution of this project pertains to the basic scientific understanding of crime and desistance in a variety of contexts; however, the project results do have some implications for criminal justice policy. The analyses of motherhood and desistance suggests that among girls and adolescents in severely disadvantaged neighborhoods in Denver, becoming a mother provides meaning in life, pulls them away from troublesome peers, increases their self-esteem, and assists in altering their identities as "bad" girls and women. The analyses of deterrence and drug use suggests that perceived risk of arrest reduces the likelihood of forming intentions to use drugs. In models of future drug use, however, when intentions are held constant, perceived risk does not show a significant effect on drug use; therefore, the threat of sanction deters future drug use indirectly by reducing drug intentions. A listing of 10 project papers completed and in-progress

Date Published: February 1, 2018