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Criminal Careers - Criminal Career Patterns

offenders moffitt offending chronic

As discussed above, much research has detailed the existence of several different types of criminal career patterns. This notion is very important for the testing and further development of criminological theories, as most previous work in criminology has posited the existence of a simple dichotomy of classes: offenders and nonoffenders. Research challenging this dichotomy points to the existence of several stable types of categories beyond offenders and nonoffenders.

In particular, Moffitt's (1993, 1997a) work on adolescence-limited and life-course persistent offenders offers theoretical support for the existence of and distinctions between these two types of career patterns. It also suggests why there may be a continuity in offending behavior over time among some individuals, coupled with a dramatic increase in levels of offending in the teen years—one piece of evidence for what Cohen and Vila (1996) call the "paradox of persistence." The paradox is this: while most juvenile delinquents do not grow up to be adult offenders (e.g., deviant behavior is a "normal" part of the teen years), almost all adult offenders were juvenile delinquents.

Moffitt (1993) points to neuropsychological problems, often occurring in the fetal brain and inhibiting temperamental, behavioral, and cognitive development, interacting with a poor or "criminogenic" social environment, as the cause for chronic offending. Unlike the adolescencelimited offenders, the cause of the antisocial behavior exhibited by chronic offenders is often located in the earliest years of socialization. The early deficit identified by Moffitt, combined with the lack of a supportive childhood environment and problematic child-parent interactions, causes persistence in deviant behavior over time. Moffitt points out that, "children with cognitive and temperamental disadvantages are not generally born into supportive environments, nor do they even get a fair chance of being randomly assigned to good or bad environments" (1993, p. 6681). Cumulative consequences of their behavior continue to narrow their options in the world of "legitimate" or normative behavior. Moffitt (1997b) goes one step further to assert that neuropsychological problems can interact specifically with neighborhood social context to either enhance antisocial or delinquent behavior. Looking at African American males from the Pittsburgh Youth Study (Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, Van Kammen, and Farrington), Moffitt (1997b) finds that living in a good neighborhood seemed to protect boys from involvement with delinquency, but only if they were neuropsychologically healthy. Boys suffering from neuropsychological problems were always more likely to be delinquent than those not suffering from such problems, regardless of neighborhood status.

Unlike their chronic counterparts, Moffitt hypothesizes that adolescence-limited offenders do not come from the same environmentally deficit backgrounds or have the same neurological problems, nor do they suffer from the effects of cumulative disadvantage. Rather, Moffitt asserts that such behavior confined in the teen years is, "motivated by the gap between biological maturity and social maturity" (1993, p. 685). Antisocial behavior, including involvement with juvenile delinquency, is "social mimicry" that is used by young individuals to achieve a higher level of status in the teenage world, with its subsequent power and privileges. Adolescence-limited offenders mimic the behavior that they see exhibited by chronic offenders during the teen years but, because they have not severed major bonds with society, may come from more stable families, and are not suffering from the same neurological damage, they are able to easily desist from offending as they reach the early years of adulthood.

The hypothesized existence of these two groups of offenders suggests two important points. First, it would explain the huge increase in individual rates of offending that happen in the adolescent years, followed by the precipitous decline exhibited in the unimodal population-level age-crime curve. It would seem to suggest that this change happens because fewer people are offending in the later years: the adolescencelimiteds have stopped, while the smaller group of chronic offenders keeps going—an argument for state dependence as opposed to population heterogeneity. Secondly, it also points to the necessity of conducting longitudinal research on criminal careers. If, at their peaks in offending, adolescence-limited and life-course persistent offenders are similar in their behavior, there is little way to distinguish between the two groups.

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