Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Juvenile Reoffending: A Ten-Year Retrospective Cohort Analysis

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Juvenile Reoffending: A Ten-Year Retrospective Cohort Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

For criminology, the 1980s was a period of significant intellectual and theoretical development manifested through a series of debates concerning the ubiquity and underlying covariates of the relationship between age and crime (Piquero et al. 2003; Piquero 2008). Since described as one of the most significant in the discipline (Vold, et al. 1998), these debates breathed new life into an ongoing discussion among scholars about the theoretical and practical importance of persistent population heterogeneity (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990) and state dependence (Sampson & Laub 1993); two explanatory paradigms central to developmental and life-course theories in criminology (see Nagin & Paternoster 1998; Farrington 2003). Chief among their disagreements stood three key questions. The first was whether the antisocial and criminal behaviour of young people could best be described as adolescent-limited or life-course persistent (Moffitt 1993). The second was whether the reification of such groups or typologies was more detrimental than helpful to the policy development process (Nagin 2010). The third was whether empirically constructed pathways could be predicted early enough and with sufficient prospective reliability such that targeted assessments and interventions would out-perform existing practices. It was Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1988) contention, for example, that the criminal career research espoused by Blumstein and colleagues (1986) had over-promised and under-delivered, because the standard forms of data held by the criminal justice system--and thus used by criminal career researchers--are insufficient for such a complex and difficult task.

Here in Australia, the emerging empirical support for an adolescent-limited offending population (Piquero et al. 2003), coupled with significant investment in the Pathways project (Gilmore 1999), underpinned considerable ongoing investment in early intervention and diversion programs. Their principal aim is to minimise the processing and formal criminalisation of young offenders for whom developmental theory predicts desistence from crime in the late teens or early adulthood. The question of whether juvenile offenders persist or desist from crime and how such outcomes might be predicted is, therefore, of fundamental importance to juvenile justice policy. If the majority of juvenile offenders who come into contact with the criminal justice system have only one or, at most two contacts, there is little justification for subjecting them--or their families--to expensive and possibly intrusive interventions designed to reduce the risk of further offending. If, on the other hand, a large majority of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system repeatedly reoffend in ways that are not trivial, a case can be made for intervention to reduce the risk of further offending. If the true situation lies between these two extremes, it becomes important to find ways of prospectively distinguishing between those who will desist from offending of their own accord and those who will tend to persist, so that steps can be taken to reduce the risk of further offending among those who are likely to persist. Behind this larger question lie a number of other important issues. If most juvenile offenders do reoffend after their first contact, are the offences they go on to commit minor or serious? How long does it usually take before a young person makes their second contact with the justice system, and how many further contacts do they typically have? What proportion of those who continue offending end up in custody, whether as a juvenile or as an adult? Can we tell in advance who will desist from offending and who will continue?

Recently, these matters have been the subject of some conjecture in the Australian context, in particular following Weatherburn and colleagues' (2012) claim that the so-called 'Three Dogmas' of juvenile justice have insufficient empirical support (see also Payne 2007) to justify their central position as pillars of policy development and implementation in Australia. …

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