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Criminal Careers: How They Are Produced

Even though so much research has been conducted on crime, it is still a major publicpolicy issue, and one of the most elusive topics of scientific research. Many scholars haveaddressed the subject, theorized about its etiology, and formed valid opinions on the best policiesto deal with crime. However, despite the research and the efforts placed on the subject, there is no definitive or full-proof method or policy developed to effectively counter crime. Nonetheless, there is some significant progress made in the criminal careers study, and much effort has beenplaced on realizing and understanding the “criminal career” paradigm. While there are variousclaims as to how criminal careers are produced, deeper insight into the components of thecriminal career paradigm and criminality, causes, and patterns discloses that criminal careers areproduced by an imbalance between the individual and society.

Generally, criminal careers are regarded as the “longitudinal sequence of delinquent andcriminal acts committed by over the course of their lifespan, from childhood through adolescenceto adulthood” (Barry, Monica, and Fergus, 43). Most crime offenders tend to commit a singlecrime and terminate their delinquency after their gist arrest. However, a small percentage goes onto offend continuously and repeatedly, with a subset of these individuals developing into chronicoffenders; forming a “career” pattern of criminal behavior (Blumstein, Alfred, 12). The firststudy on criminal careers, Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency, by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, itwas discovered there was a strong relationship between age and crime. Glueks discovered that,Surname2over time, there is a stable and identifiable change of behavior and crime committed (Blumstein,Alfred, 13).

As more research was carried out on the development of criminal careers, itsimplication of both continuity and change become dominant. Thus, a more dynamic view ofoffending, that included the element of stability and change within criminal careers, wassupported. That is, criminal careers demonstrated continuity and change throughout the development. Additionally, in the study of criminal careers production, there are four structural elements that are defined and applied; these are participation/prevalence, frequency/incidence,seriousness, and the length of the career (Levesque, Roger, 544). In this instance, participation isconsidered a macro-level measure of the proportion of population involved in delinquentbehaviors, while frequency refers to the rate at which the offender actively carries out thedelinquencies (Levesque, Roger, 544).

Next, seriousness refers to the significance of the crimecommitted by a given individual, while career length refers to the length of time the individualhas been actively committing a crime. Moreover, the age by which the individual indulges inhis/her crime varies, with those exhibiting antisocial behaviors producing earlier and longercriminal careers than others (Levesque, Roger, 544). Those that exhibit early age of criminalcareer initiation tend to get involved in more serious crimes later on. Therefore, the age ofinitiation is related to career length and duration. When these elements are aggregated acrossindividuals within a given population, they exhibit a criminal career that in a unimodal age-crimecurve.While these arguments on production and development of criminal careers are valid,evidence shows that criminal careers of most offenders are fairly short; consisting of one to a fewcrimes in their adolescence, and stopping these acts altogether. However, for a selected portionSurname3of individuals – about 5 to 10% of a given offender sample -, the criminal careers is long; theycommit more serious crimes, and frequently (DeLisi, Matt, 35).

More so, the most prolificoffenders tend to start committing crime at a very age, giving them a longer criminal career thanthose that start at a later age (Levesque, Roger, 544-545). Moreover, these offenders go on tocommit more violent offenses than their young offenders. Also, co-offenders who start theircriminal careers very early become more prolific and more violent in with progression in theircriminal careers (Levesque, Roger, 543). As Moffitt shows, the criminal offending “showsimperative continuity over age”, but “its prevalence changes dramatically with age” (674). Thus,to understand the criminal’s life, or predict the future criminal activity, the investigator studiesthe past criminal behaviors, while keeping in mind that the criminal offending prevalence willdramatically decrease with age.Therefore, production of criminal careers depends on an individual’s social ties andbonds to institutions. Sampson and his colleagues hypothesized that shifting of social bonds tooffenders and institutions (such as family) over the course of their lives can result to anindividual to either continue or cease his or her criminal behavior (Sampson, Robert, and JohnLaub, 168).

The authors demonstrated, in their age-graded theory of informal social control, thatthere is an element of stability and change in behavior trajectories – such as crime over time.They observed that certain life events such as marriage can increase the individual’s tie to thesociety or social institution, more often leading to a decrease in the individual’s association withother delinquent peers (Sampson, Robert, and John Laub, 168). With the decrease in theassociation, the individual’s offense rates decrease. However, failure to forming such ties causesthe individual to continue offending over the course of their lifetime. While comparing shorterand longer criminal careers, Thornberry, Terence, and Marvin explain that those that lack anySurname4social ties produce a more violent and persistent criminal career than those with social ties tonon-violent institutions (187).Some scholars also argue that a typical criminal career does not exist; meaning thatdeterminants for the development of criminal careers cannot be determined. Farrington et al.discovered that criminal careers set off between the age of 19 and 28, and all other pro-bandsshowing that decreasing social abnormalities corresponded with general social interaction.Moreover, as Moffit discussed, chronic offenders are rare while episodic juvenile delinquency iscommon and significantly frequent (Nagin, Daniel et al. 112).

Refuting the development ofcriminal careers, Freiburg argues that is produced by an imbalance between individual andsociety, and the lack of patterns indicate the lack of patterns means that they can occur at anytime (Farrington, David, et al, 6). These arguments make it hard to identify future criminaloffenders or predict the likelihood of an offense within a criminal career, and that criminalcareers only endure in the medium term. Additionally, Farrington, the argument presents that thelack of a predictive path to criminal career shows that there the production or development of acriminal career is non-existent, rather, the only constant element is that the dropout within acriminal career remains possible at any point in time within the individual’s life (7).

While the classic and previous points showing the development of criminal careers – asstarting from childhood to adulthood – it is evident that criminal careers can change at anymoment in an individual’s life. An offender may start a criminal career early in his/her life butwhen they find a social tie or get separated from the environment supporting his delinquencies,the criminal career may be cut short (Farrington, David, et al, 6). More so, the presence orabsence of social ties between the individual and the society can greatly influence thecriminality, causes, and patterns of the criminal career (Blumstein, Alfred, 13). This argumentSurname5ultimately confirms that the personal theory concerning the production of criminal careers canonly be pinned on the imbalance between an individual and the society. That is, the changes inthe life events of an individual can influence the criminal careers of a person, and can cause theindividual to either start, continue, or cease his/her criminal career.

In conclusion, the production of criminal careers relies on more than one aspect orinfluence in an individual’s life. Scholars studying criminal careers agree that criminal careerscan start and continue over the course of a lifetime. However, by studying various elements of acriminal career, and comparing different arguments and studies, it is evident that a criminalcareer is produced by the lack of balance between the individual and the social structures withinthe society. The individual carrying out crimes can start or stop at any time of his or her life;meaning that criminal careers can be produced or maintained from a certain point in of a lifetimeto another. Therefore, criminal careers can be produced by the changes in his or her social orinstitution ties, which can happen at any point in their lives. This explains why there is thedifference in criminal careers, some appearing short, while others going on to chronic levels. Bystudying and understanding criminals and the influences to criminal careers criminologist candevelop the best policies and strategies to deal with crime.

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