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Childhood Behavior and Adult Criminality: Cluster Analysis in a Prospective Study of African Americans

Abstract

Adult criminality has important roots in childhood. While many studies have established that multiple problem behaviors in childhood increase the likelihood of future crime and deviance, the current study extends this “established” relationship by asking three questions: (1) Do different combinations of childhood behavioral risk factors affect adult offending? (2) Do family risk factors affect adult offending above and beyond these combinations of risks?, and (3) Are there gender differences present with respect to these two questions? Gender-specific cluster analyses identified seven clusters of childhood behavioral patterns based on teacher ratings measured in first grade among an epidemiologically-defined cohort of African Americans. Multinomial logistic regression analyses were utilized to examine the relationship of cluster membership, family risks, and criminal arrests through age 32 for serious violent and property crimes. While some gender differences emerged, both males and females in the multiple problem cluster were more likely to have later arrests for serious crime. Females who were frequently punished as first graders were most likely to have later arrests for serious crimes, while males who were from mother-only families were at higher risk of having serious criminal arrests compared to those from mother–father families. Implications for prevention and intervention strategies are also discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. The sample used in this study equals 1198 due to the exclusion of 44 cases who died prior to age 32.

  2. These records were independently coded by Joan McCord, a criminologist, and Loretta Hall Morgan, a criminal court judge in Chicago.

  3. Serious violent crimes include murder, manslaughter, rape, assault, battery, domestic assault, weapons charges, and kidnapping. Serious property crimes include arson, auto theft, possession of a stolen automobile, breaking and entering, burglary, theft, and attempted theft. Non-serious crimes include crimes of prostitution, traffic violations, crimes against order, business crimes, and alcohol or drug-related crimes.

  4. Each of the multinomial logistic regressions were analyzed with and without the 44 dead cases revealing virtually identical results. The analyses excluding the deceased cases are presented.

  5. Using the arrest counts (not accounting for incarceration time), negative binomial regression analyses indicate similar results for males and females with respect to significance and direction (data not shown). While there were a few differences in the results, the primary conclusions from the negative binomial analyses concur with the multinomial logit analyses reported here.

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Acknowledgments

This paper was supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (R01-DA06630, Margaret Ensminger, P.I.) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (R49/CCR318627-02, Phillip Leaf, P.I.). We are grateful to the late Joan McCord for the comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of the manuscript as well as for the collection and coding of criminal records. Our gratitude also goes to the late Honorable Loretta Hall Morgan who helped obtain and code the FBI and Chicago Police Records. We wish to thank the Woodlawn Project Advisory Board for their continued support and cooperation of this research project during the past 30 years.

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Correspondence to Hee-Soon Juon.

 

 

Appendix The correlation matrix for variables in the cluster analysis for males (below the diagonal) and females (above the diagonal)

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Juon, HS., Doherty, E.E. & Ensminger, M.E. Childhood Behavior and Adult Criminality: Cluster Analysis in a Prospective Study of African Americans. J Quant Criminol 22, 193–214 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-006-9008-9

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Keywords

  • Childhood behavioral problems
  • Criminal arrests
  • Cluster analysis
  • Longitudinal study
  • African Americans
  • Gender differences
  • Parental punishment
  • Family type
  • Violence