The current study examines how cumulative adversity in childhood is related to both frequency of offending and criminal career length in adulthood. Specifically we examine (1) whether multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) predict criminal career length and frequency of offending, and (2) if the formation of adult bonds mediates the relationship between adversity in childhood with persistent and chronic offending in adulthood.
Analyses use data on a population of several hundred individuals who have committed numerous violent offenses and have criminal careers of up to 56 years in length (N = 401). Path analysis was used to estimate the total, indirect, and direct effects of the accumulation of multiple adversities on two key dimensions of a criminal career: career length and frequency of offending.
Results indicate the pathway to frequent offending differs from the pathway to criminal career length. Prosocial bonds did not mediate the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and criminal career length; instead, there was a significant direct effect of ACEs on career length. On the other hand, ACEs were negatively and indirectly related to frequency of offending through the particular bond of employment.
Results suggest that early years are important for initiating trajectories of disadvantage; at the same time our results also demonstrate a role for interventions across the life course. Early interventions that attempt to diminish the impact of negative beginnings as well as interventions that facilitate efforts to build social capital during adulthood may have the ability to redirect trajectories.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
In some cases, the end date was recorded as the end of the study period (December 31, 2014) because a handful of offenders (approximately 5%) received a Dangerous Offender (DO) designation or were sentenced to life in prison. A DO designation may be accompanied by an indeterminate sentence length whereby offenders are subject to reassessment to determine if their risk level has diminished enough to ensure they do not present an imminent risk to the safety of the public should they be released . A life imprisonment sentence is accompanied with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years; if offenders are granted parole while serving life sentences, they are under supervision for the rest of their lives (Parole Board of ). Consequently, in both cases, it was impossible to know when these offenders might be released from prison. In order to maintain consistency, it was decided that the end date of the study period was the best way to deal with these measurement issues.
Given the inconsistent nature of the information from the police files, not all the measures that have been included in more recent studies employing the ACE measure (see [16, 26,27,28]) were available here. For example, information on the experience of physical and emotional neglect as well as prevalence of household mental illness was not uniformly available across all subjects, so these measures were not included.
Of note, the ACE score is an index, not a scale, of exposure to adverse experiences in childhood; therefore, traditional measures of reliability do not apply here.
In preliminary analyses, we considered prosocial bonds as a latent variable, but not all of the items loaded well, so we kept the variables as separate measures of prosocial ties to institutions of informal social control.
Due to concerns over disclosure, we were required to measure age this way.
It is common to include both a variable for onset age and one that accounts for prior offending behavior (see, for example, )
While it was not possible to include the time-varying nature of substance abuse issues, case file information often noted that it was a continuous problem for many of the individuals within this population/consistent theme throughout their adult years.
This did not appear to introduce bias into these analyses as alternative analyses using a negative binomial model were run in Stata. The overall pattern of results using the negative binomial model was similar to the results using the natural log of frequency of offending in Mplus. There are limitations to both Stata and Mplus therefore both have been used to ensure that additional error was not introduced into the analyses.
Given the similarities between the focal independent variable and the mediators, figures of the significant relationships will not be included for this portion of the analysis.
Joliffe, D., Farrington, D. P., Piquero, A. R., MacLeod, J. F., & van de Weijer, S. (2017). Prevalence of life-course persistent, adolescence-limited, and late-onset offenders: a systematic review of prospective longitudinal studies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 33, 4–14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2017.01.002.
Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course persistent antisocial behaviour: a developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674–701.
Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., Roth, J. A., & Visher, C. A. (1986). Criminal careers and “career criminals” Vol. I. Report of the panel on research on criminal careers, National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Farrington, D. P. (1992). Criminal career research in the United Kingdom. British Journal of Criminology, 32(4), 521–536. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.bjc.a048255.
Nagin, D. S., Farrington, D. P., & Moffitt, T. E. (1995). Life-course trajectories of different types of offenders. Criminology, 33(1), 111–139. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1995.tb01173.x.
Piquero, A. R., Brame, R., & Lynam, D. (2004). Studying criminal career length through early adulthood among serious offenders. Crime & Delinquency, 50(3), 412–435. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128703260333.
Piquero, A. R., Farrington, D. P., & Blumstein, A. (2007a). Key issues in criminal career research: new analyses of the Cambridge study in delinquent development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (2003). Life-course desisters? Trajectories of crime among delinquent boys followed to age 70. Criminology, 41(3), 555–592. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2003.tb00997.x.
Kyvsgaard, B. (2002). The criminal career: the Danish longitudinal study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Caspi, A., McClay, J., Moffitt, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J., Craig, I. W., et al. (2002). Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science, 297(5582), 851–854. https://doi.org/10.1126/Science.1072290.
Evans, S. Z., Simons, L. G., & Simons, R. L. (2012). The effect of corporal punishment and verbal abuse on delinquency: mediating mechanisms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(8), 1095–1110. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9755-x.
Ford, J. D., Elhai, J. D., Connor, D. F., & Frueh, B. C. (2010). Poly-victimization and risk of posttraumatic, depressive, and substance use disorders and involvement in delinquency in a national sample of adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(6), 545–552. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.11.212.
Heck, C., & Walsh, A. (2000). The effects of maltreatment and family structure on minor and serious delinquency. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 44(2), 178–193. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X00442004.
Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Baglivio, M. T., Wolff, K. T., Epps, N., & Nelson, R. (2015a). Predicting adverse childhood experiences: the importance of neighborhood context in youth trauma among delinquent youth. Crime & Delinquency, 63(2), 166–188. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128715570628.
Elklit, A., Karstoft, K., Armour, C., Feddern, D., & Christoffersen, M. (2013). Predicting criminality from child maltreatment typologies and posttraumatic stress symptoms. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.3402/ejpt/v4i0.19825.
Kaplan, S. J., Pelcovitz, D., & Labruna, V. (1999). Child and adolescent abuse and neglect research: a review of the past 10 years. Part I: Physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Journal of the American Academy of child Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(10), 1214–1222. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-199910000-00009.
Moffitt, T. E., Lynam, D. R., & Silva, P. A. (1994). Neuropsychological tests predicting persistent male delinquency. Criminology, 32(2), 277–300. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1994.tb01155.x.
Nagin, D. S., & Land, K. C. (1993). Age, criminal careers, and population heterogeneity: specification and estimation of a nonparametric, mixed Poisson model. Criminology, 31(3), 327–362. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1993.tb01133.x.
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 14(4), 245–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8.
Chapman, D. P., Whitfield, C. L., Felitti, V. J., Dube, S. R., Edwards, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (2004). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of depressive disorders in adulthood. Journal of Affective Disorders, 82(2), 217–225. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2003.12.013.
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Chapman, D. P., Williamson, D. F., & Giles, W. H. (2001). Childhood abuse, household dysfunction, and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the life span. JAMA, 286(24), 3089–3096. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.286.24.3089.
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Edwards, V. J., & Croft, J. B. (2002). Adverse childhood experiences and personal alcohol use as an adult. Addictive Behaviours, 27(5), 713–725. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4603(01)00204-0.
Baglivio, M. T., & Epps, N. (2016). The interrelatedness of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) among juveniles with criminal offending histories. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 14(3), 179–198. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541204014566286.
Baglivio, M. T., Epps, N., Swartz, K., Sayedul Huq, M., Sheer, A., & Hardt, N. (2014). The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2), 1–23.
Baglivio, M. T., Wolff, K. T., Piquero, A. R., & Epps, N. (2015b). The relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and juvenile offending trajectories in a juvenile offender sample. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(3), 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2015.04.012.
Craig, J. M., Baglivio, M. T., Wolff, K. T., Piquero, A. R., & Epps, N. (2016). Do social bonds buffer the impact of adverse childhood experiences on reoffending? Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 15(1), 3–20. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541204016630033.
Fox, B.H., Perez, N., Cass, E., Baglivio, M.T. & Epps, N. (2015). Trauma changes everything: Examining the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and serious, violent and chronic juvenile offenders. Child Abuse & Neglect, 46, 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.01.011.
Wolff, K. T., & Baglivio, M. T. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences, negative emotionality, and pathways to juvenile recidivism. Crime & Delinquency (Online ahead of print). https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128715627469.
Thornberry, T. P. (2005). Explaining multiple patterns of offending across the life course and across generations. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 602(1), 156–195. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716205280641.
Loeber, R., & Hay, D. (1997). Key issues in the development of aggression and violence from childhood to early adulthood. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 371–410. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.48.1.371.
Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kornhauser, R. (1978). Social sources of delinquency: an appraisal of analytic models. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Widom, C. S. (1989). The cycle of violence. Science, 244, 160–165.
Maxfield, M. G., & Widom, C. S. (1996). The cycle of violence: revisited 6 years later. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 150(4), 390–395. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170290056009.
Widom, C. S., & Ames, M. A. (1994). Criminal consequences of childhood sexual victimization. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18(4), 303–318. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-2134(94)90033-7.
Armour, C., Elklit, A., & Christofferson, M. N. (2014). A latent class analysis of childhood maltreatment: identifying abuse typologies. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 19(1), 23–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/15325024.2012.734205.
Farrington, D. P. (2005). Childhood origins of antisocial behaviour. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 12(3), 177–190. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.448.
Murray, J., Farrington, D. P., & Sokol, I. (2012). Children’s antisocial behavior, mental health, drug use, and educational performance after incarceration: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 175–210. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026407.
Anda, R. F., Buchart, A., Felitti, V. J., & Brown, D. W. (2010). Building a framework for global surveillance of the public health implications for adverse childhood experiences. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 39(1), 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2010.03.015.
Fox, B. H., Perez, N., Cass, E., Baglivio, M. T., & Epps, N. (2015). Trauma changes everything: examining the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and serious, violent and chronic juvenile offenders. Child Abuse & Neglect, 46, 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.01.011.
O’Rand, A. M. (1996). The precious and the precocious: Understanding cumulative disadvantage and cumulative advantage over the life course. Gerontologist, 36(2), 230–238. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/36.2.230.
Dannefer, D. (1987). Aging as intracohort differentiation: accentuation, the Matthew effect, and the life course. Sociological Forum, 2(2), 211–236. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01124164.
Dannefer, D. (2003). Cumulative advantage/disadvantage and the life course: cross-fertilizing age and social science theory. Journal of Gerontology, 58B(6), S327–S337. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/58.6.S327.
O’Rand, A. M. (2003). Cumulative advantage theory in life course research. In S. Crystal, S. Dennis, & K. Warner Schaie (Eds.), Annual review of gerontology and geriatrics Vol. 22: Focus on economic outcomes later in life (pp. 14–30). New York: Springer.
O’Rand, A. M., & Hamil-Luker, J. (2005). Processes of cumulative adversity: childhood disadvantage and increased risk of heart attack across the life course. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 60(2), 117–124. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/60.Special_Issue_2.S117.
Akers, R. L. (2008). Self-control and social learning theory. In E. Goode (Ed.), Out of control: assessing the general theory of crime (pp. 78–89). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Sampson, R.J. & Laub, J.H. (1997). A life-course theory of cumulative disadvantage and the stability of delinquency. In T. Thornberry (Ed.), Developmental Theories of Crime and Delinquency (Advances in Criminological Theory Vol 7: pp.133–161). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Giordano, P. G., Cernkovich, S. A., & Rudolph, J. L. (2002). Gender, crime and desistance: toward a theory of cognitive transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 107(4), 990–1064. https://doi.org/10.1086/343191.
Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c.46, s. 733.1(1), 810.2 (4.1) - (6), and 811(a) (b).
Public Safety Canada (2015b). Frequently asked questions about the release of offenders. Retrieved May 1, 2016 from http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/crrctns/protctn-gnst-hgh-rsk-ffndrs/faq-eng.aspx.
Public Safety Canada (2015a). Dangerous offender designation. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/cntrng-crm/crrctns/protctn-gnst-hgh-rsk-ffndrs/dngrs-ffndr-dsgntn-eng.aspx.
Harris, D. A., Mazerolle, P., & Knight, R. A. (2009). Understanding male sexual offending: a comparison of general and specialist theories. Criminal Justice and Behaviour, 36(10), 1051–1069. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854809342242.
Lyngstad, T.H. & Skardhamar, T. (2013). Changes in criminal offending around the time of marriage. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 50, 608–615. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427812469516
Yang, J., McCuish, E. C., & Corrado, R. R. (2017). Foster care beyond placement: offending outcomes in emerging adulthood. Journal of Criminal Justice, 53, 46–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2017.08.009.
McCuish, E. C., Corrado, R. R., Hart, S. D., & DeLisi, M. (2015). The role of symptoms of psychopathy in persistent violence over the criminal career into full adulthood. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43, 345–356. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2015.04.008.
Havlicek, J. R., Garcia, A. R., & Smith, D. C. (2013). Mental health and substance use disorders among foster youth transitioning to adulthood: past research and future directions. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(1), 194–203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.10.003.
Stott, T., & Gustavsson, N. (2010). Balancing permanency and stability for youth in foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(4), 619–625. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.12.009.
Verbruggen, J., Blokland, A. A., & van der Geest, V. R. (2012). Effects of employment and underemployment on serious offending in a high-risk sample of men and women from ages 18 to 32 in the Netherlands. British Journal of Criminology, 52, 845–869. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azs023.
Horney, J., Osgood, D. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1995). Criminal careers in the short-term: Intra-individual variability in crime and its relation to local life circumstances. American Sociological Review, 60(5), 655–673.
Sullivan, C. J., McGloin, J. M., Pratt, T. C., & Piquero, A. R. (2006). Rethinking the “norm” of offender generality: investigating specialization in the short-term. Criminology, 44(1), 199–233. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2006.00047.x.
Kline, R. B. (2011). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
Hoffmann, J. P. (2004). Generalized linear models: an applied approach. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc..
Muthén, L. K. & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles: Muthén & Muthén.
Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (2005). A life-course view of the development of crime. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 602(1), 12–45. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716205280075.
Osgood, D. W. (2005). Making sense of crime and the life course. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 602(1), 196–211. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716205280383.
Sullivan, C. M. (2011). The utility of the deviant case in the development of criminological theory. Criminology, 49(3), 905–920. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2011.00236.x.
Piquero, A. R., Moffitt, T. E., & Wright, B. E. (2007b). Self-control and criminal career dimensions. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23(1), 72–89. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986206298949.
Skardhamar, T., & Savolainen, J. (2014). Changes in criminal offending around the time of job entry: a study of employment and desistance. Criminology, 52(2), 263–291. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9125.12037.
Uggen, C. (2000). Work as a turning point in the life course of criminals: a duration model of age, employment, and recidivism. American Sociological Review, 65(4), 529–546.
Kruttschnitt, C., Uggen, C., & Shelton, K. (2000). Predictors of desistance among sex offenders. The interaction between formal and informal social controls. Justice Quarterly, 17(1), 61–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418820000094481.
Kazemian, L. (2007). Desistance from crime: theoretical, empirical, methodological, and policy considerations. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23(1), 5–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986206298940.
Smith, C., & Thornberry, T. P. (1995). The relationship between childhood maltreatment and adolescent involvement in delinquency. Criminology, 33(4), 451–481.
Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1986). The true value of lambda would appear to be zero. Criminology, 24, 213–234.
Schweinhart, L. J. (2013). Long-term follow-up of a preschool experiment. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 9(4), 389–409. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-013-9190-3.
McNeill, F. (2006). A desistance paradigm for offender management. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 6, 39–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/1748895806060666.
About this article
Cite this article
Humphrey, T., Van Brunschot, E.G. Accumulating (Dis)advantage: Do Social Bonds Mediate the Relationship Between Multiple Childhood Adversities and Persistent Offending?. J Dev Life Course Criminology 4, 297–321 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40865-018-0083-z