The Duration of Criminal Careers: How Many Offenders Do Not Desist up to Age 61?
The main aim of this article is to investigate the duration of criminal careers, to assess how many offenders desist from offending (i.e., terminate offending) up to age 61.
The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development is a prospective longitudinal survey of 411 London males originally studied at age 8 in 1961. Their criminal records have been searched repeatedly up to age 61, and their self-reported offending was measured up to age 48, when 93% of males were interviewed.
Forty-four percent of males were convicted, and many criminal careers were very long; 26% of convicted males had a duration of 20 years or more. The probability of being reconvicted was substantial even after a gap of 10 (20%) or 15 years (19%) after the previous conviction, but it was only 8% after a 30-year gap and only 6% after a 40-year gap. Offenders who had been conviction-free for 30 or more years since their last conviction had a similar self-reported offending score to non-offenders at age 48.
It seems likely that those offenders (49%) who had been conviction-free for 30 or more years had truly desisted. In contrast, those offenders who were conviction-free for less than 10 years (22%) probably had not desisted up to age 61. Desistance is more uncertain for the remainder of the offenders.
KeywordsCriminal career Duration Desistance Longitudinal study Self-reported offending
For carrying out criminal record searches, I am very grateful to Gwen Gundry in the 1960s and 1970s, Lynda Morley in the 1980s, Sandra Lambert in the 1990s, Debbie Wilson in the 2000s, Owen Thomas in 2011–12, and Lisa Robinson in 2017.
For funding the CSDD, I am very grateful to the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Education, the Rayne foundation, the Barrow Cadbury Trust, and the Smith-Richardson Foundation.
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