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.