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Comparing Patterns and Predictors of Immigrant Offending Among a Sample of Adjudicated Youth

Abstract

Research on immigration and crime has only recently started to consider potential heterogeneity in longitudinal patterns of immigrant offending. Guided by segmented assimilation and life course criminology frameworks, this article advances prior research on the immigration-crime nexus in three ways: using a large sample of high-risk adjudicated youth containing first and second generation immigrants; examining longitudinal trajectories of official and self-reported offending; and merging segmented assimilation and life course theories to distinguish between offending patterns. Data come from the Pathways to Desistance study containing detailed offending and socio-demographic background information on 1,354 adolescents (13.6 % female; n = 1,061 native-born; n = 210 second generation immigrants; n = 83 first generation immigrants) as they transition to young adulthood (aged 14–17 at baseline). Over 84 months we observe whether patterns of offending, and the correlates that may distinguish them, operate differently across immigrant generations. Collectively, this study offers the first investigation of whether immigrants, conditioned on being adjudicated, are characterized by persistent offending. Results show that first generation immigrants are less likely to be involved in serious offending and to evidence persistence in offending, and appear to be on a path toward desistance much more quickly than their peers. Further, assimilation and neighborhood disadvantage operate in unique ways across generational status and relate to different offending styles. The findings show that the risk for persistent offending is greatest among those with high levels of assimilation who reside in disadvantaged contexts, particularly among the second generation youth in the sample.

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Notes

  1. Immigrant generation is often used as a proxy measure of assimilation with the understanding that successive generations will have higher levels of assimilation (see e.g., Morenoff and Astor 2006; Rumbaut et al. 2006).

  2. Some readers might wonder if the lower rates observed for the first generation subsample are merely a result of these individuals being locked up more frequently and, hence, incapacitated (e.g., Piquero et al. 2001). To investigate this possibility, we explored the mean percentage of time over each observational period that each subgroup was out of the community and incapacitated. We considered only stays in settings without access to the community (e.g., jail/prison; see: Mulvey et al. 2007). Initially, the first generation subsample has the highest mean percentage of time out of the community (~49 % of the time spent with no community access, on average) slightly higher compared to second generation (~44 %), native black (~42 %), and native Hispanic (~43 %), and considerably higher than native white (~35 %). However, these gaps diminish even more over time, and after 48 months, the first generation subsample actually has lower rates of incapacitation than all other subgroups, except for native whites, for the remainder of the 84 months follow-up. In other words, these results imply that the lower rates of offending for the first generation subsample are most likely not due to this group being locked up and lacking opportunity to commit crimes.

  3. Our observation here is reminiscent of a special issue of Advances in Criminological Theory, whereby noted theorists considered how the (at the time) emerging developmental perspective could enhance traditional theories of crime and delinquency, which were largely static in their explanation (see Thornberry 1997). With the exception of social disorganization theory, most theories of crime and delinquency do not deal with the role of immigration in general much less the differential criminal involvement across successive generations of immigrants in particular.

  4. The findings reviewed in this paragraph are focused solely within the population of Hispanics and should not be considered as a comparison between immigrants compared to their American-born counterparts more generally.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2000-MU–MU-0007), the National Institute of Justice (199-IJ-CX-0053), the National Institute of Drug Abuse (RO1 DA019697-01), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Robert Wood Foundation, The Center for Disease Control, The William Penn Foundation, The Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission, and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. We are grateful for their support. The content of this paper, however, is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these agencies.

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BEB conceived of the study, assisted with the design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript. TAL participated in the design, interpretation of the data, and performed all statistical analysis. ARP assisted with the study conception, acquisition of data, and drafting of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bianca E. Bersani.

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Bersani, B.E., Loughran, T.A. & Piquero, A.R. Comparing Patterns and Predictors of Immigrant Offending Among a Sample of Adjudicated Youth. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1914–1933 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-013-0045-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-013-0045-z

Keywords

  • Immigration
  • Offending
  • Longitudinal
  • Ethnic identity
  • Assimilation