Explaining Criminal Careers: Implications for Justice Policy

ISBN : 9780199697243

John F. MacLeod; Peter Grove; David P. Farrington
272 Pages
154 x 219 mm
Pub date
Aug 2012
Clarendon Studies in Criminology
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A PDF version of this book is available for free in open access via www.oup.com/uk as well as the OAPEN Library platform, www.oapen.org. It has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 3.0 license and is part of the OAPEN-UK research project. Explaining Criminal Careers presents a simple but influential theory of crime, conviction and reconviction. The assumptions of the theory are derived directly from a detailed analysis of cohort samples extracted from the Home Office Offenders Index - a unique database which contains records of all criminal (standard list) convictions in England and Wales since 1963. In particular, the theory explains the well-known Age/Crime curve. Based on the idea that there are only three types of offenders, who commit crimes at either high or low (constant) rates and have either a high or low (constant) risk of reoffending, this simple theory makes exact quantitative predictions about criminal careers and age-crime curves. Purely from the birth-rate over the second part of the 20th century, the theory accurately predicts (to within 2%) the prison population contingent on a given sentencing policy. The theory also suggests that increasing the probability of conviction after each offence is the most effective way of reducing crime, although there is a role for treatment programmes for some offenders. The authors indicate that crime is influenced by the operation of the Criminal Justice System and that offenders do not 'grow out' of crime as commonly supposed; they are persuaded to stop or decide to stop after (repeated) convictions, with a certain fraction of offenders desisting after each conviction. Simply imprisoning offenders will not reduce crime either by individual deterrence or by incapacitation. With comprehensive explanations of the formulae used and complete mathematical appendices allowing for individual interpretations and further development of the theory, Explaining Criminal Careers represents an innovative and meticulous investigation into criminal activity and the influences behind it. With clear policy implications and a wealth of original and significant discussions, this book marks a ground-breaking chapter in the criminological debate surrounding criminal careers.


1. Criminal Career Research, Mathematical Models, and Testing Quantitative Predictions from Theories
2. An Analysis of the Offenders Index
3. The Theory and a Simple Model
4. Criminal Careers of Serious, Less Serious, and Trivial Offenders
5. Is Age the Primary Influence on Offending?
6. Characteristics of Individuals
7. Applications for Managing the Criminal Justice System
8. Criminal Policy Implications
9. Summary and Conclusions
Appendix: Mathematical Notes

About the author: 

John F. MacLeod, currently a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University, retired in 2007 from a long career as a government scientist. Whilst working for the Home Office he conducted research, analysis and modelling in support of criminal justice policy, with a particular interest in criminal careers.; Peter G. Grove previously worked for Home Office on a number of areas of quantitative criminology. This included acting as statistical advisor for the national evaluation of the effectiveness of CCTV and the British Crime Survey. In collaboration with John Macleod, he constructed a quantitative predictive theory of offending behaviour.; David P. Farrington, OBE, is Professor of Psychological Criminology at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University. His major research interest is in developmental criminology, and he is Director of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, which is a prospective longitudinal survey of over 400 London males from age 8 to age 48.

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