Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 431–444 | Cite as

Continuity and Changes in the Developmental Trajectories of Criminal Career: Examining the Roles of Timing of First Arrest and High School Graduation

Original Paper


Early onset of criminal career is one of the most robust predictors of persistence in offending. However, many antisocial children do not become chronic adult offenders. Using longitudinal data of young male offenders in the California Youth Authority, we examined trajectories of criminal behavior from childhood to adulthood. We particularly focused on the main and interaction effects of age at their first arrest and completion of high school education. First, we found that, on average, cumulative crime trajectory was curvilinear, with a subtle increase in childhood followed by a rapid increase in late adolescence and a slow down in adulthood. Second, earlier starters had a steeper cumulative growth in criminal behavior over time. Third, finishing high school served as a potential turning point in offenders’ lives, particularly for later starters. The results highlight that continuity and desistance in crime can be partially understood by timing of significant events and heterogeneity in response to turning points.


Crime Trajectories Age at first arrest Educational attainment 



This study is based on data originally collected by Ernst Wenk, who was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Justice (No. 90-IJ-CX-0061), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and Arizona State University. We acknowledge financial support from the University of California, Davis and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. This manuscript is based in part on a doctoral dissertation submitted to University of California, Davis, by Misaki N. Natsuaki. We gratefully acknowledge Lawrence Harper and Katherine J. Conger for providing helpful feedback on earlier presentations of the work. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Misaki N. Natsuaki, the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Child DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human and Community DevelopmentUniversity of CaliforniaDavis, One Shields Ave. DavisUSA

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