Abstract: Desistance and Persistence among a Sample of Offenders over the Life-Course (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12382 Desistance and Persistence among a Sample of Offenders over the Life-Course

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 12:15 PM
Pacific Concourse K (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Michael G. Vaughn, PhD , Saint Louis University, Assistant Professor, St. Louis, MO
Matt DeLisi , Iowa State University, Associate Professor, Ames, IA
Kevin Beaver , Florida State University, Assistant professor, Tallahassee, FL
Background and Purpose: A perennial debate in research on adult offenders centers on the pliability of the offending careers of serious criminals over time. From one view—broadly known as the propensity perspective—serious offenders evince life-long antisocial careers generally including conduct disorder and other problem behaviors in childhood, increasingly serious delinquency during adolescence, and versatile criminal behaviors throughout adulthood. From another view—broadly known as the developmental perspective—there is similar recognition of the antisocial propensities and behaviors of the most serious offenders. But, there is greater emphasis on the salience of normal social processes and the informal social controls that spring from them. Marriage, employment, and other investments in conventional institutions serve to mediate or moderate antisocial tendencies and hasten desistance from crime. The current study seeks to contribute to this debate using two correctional samples of offenders.

Methods: Data are derived from pretrial service or bond interviews with jailed criminal defendants processed at a large urban jail in the western United States between 1995 and 2000. All self-reported criminal history was supplemented with local records. We compared two groups of offenders, one group of habitual criminals with an average of 30 career arrests and a second group representing a simple random sample of 500 offenders. Data span was from childhood until age 59. Seven year intervals were selected for consistency and measure five decades of offending history. Difference of means t-tests and two-by-two contingency tables with chi-square tests were conducted. Mean levels of offending by sample were also compared as a difference of magnitude measure.

Results: Arrest activity across seven life stages were examined during childhood and adolescence and six, 7-year age intervals through adulthood (ages 18-24, 25-31, 32-38, 39-45, 46-52, and 53-59). At all life stages, persistent offenders accumulated significantly more arrests with t-values ranging from t = 5.04 (between ages 53-59) to t = 20.04 (between ages 25-31). The differences in magnitude between mean offending totals per age range were dramatic. During childhood and adolescence, life-course persistent offenders had arrest totals that were 16 times higher than random offenders.

Between ages 46-52 there is a 34-fold difference.

Conclusions and Implications: Study findings not only underscore the need to intervene early with children that evince problem behavior but also to strengthen reentry services and polices among persistent offenders in order to blunt continued arrests and prevent victimizations. Interlocking desistance mechanisms such as a healthy marriage, stable employment, job skills, and access to addiction and mental health treatments have all been shown to reduce recidivism among adult offenders. Promoting these mutually interdependent desistance processes is critical to saving lives and reducing the substantial economic burden imposed by chronic offending.