Characterizing Criminal Careers

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Science  28 Aug 1987:
Vol. 237, Issue 4818, pp. 985-991
DOI: 10.1126/science.237.4818.985


Most knowledge about crime and criminals derives from cross-sectional analyses that link crime rates in a community with a community's attributes. The criminal-career approach focuses on individual offenders and considers their crime-committing patterns as a longitudinal stochastic process. This approach, which invokes parameters characterizing participation rate, initiation rate, termination rate and the associated career length, and individual offending frequency, offers some important new insights. For example, annual offending frequency appears to be reasonably constant with age for those offenders who stay criminally active, termination rates are relatively low for active offenders in their 30s, and offending frequencies seem to be relatively insensitive to demographic attributes for active offenders. All these observations are opposite to those that would be derived from cross-sectional analysis.

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