although there is a link between juvenile delinquency and adult crime, many of the delinquents in our follow-up study amended their behavior in adulthood. Individual change is not only possible, but appears to occur quite frequently. Therefore, although studies show that antisocial behavior in children is one of the best predictors of antisocial behavior in adults, most antisocial children do not become antisocial as adults.So most delinquent kids do not grow up to be anti-social adults (though often they continued committing crimes during their 20s). That's an important finding that runs counter to Sen. Williams notion that incarcerating kids long-term improves public safety. The idea that a teenager should serve a 30 or 40 year sentence for offenses committed in their youth cannot be supported by these data. In all likelihood, such a policy would simply delay or even hinder the maturation process offenders must go through before they cease their antisocial tendencies.
What makes the difference between kids who commit crimes as adults and those who "grow out of" their delinquent phase? Wrote Laub,
We found that, up to age 32, job stability and marital attachment in adulthood are significantly related to changes in adult crime; the stronger the adult ties to work and family, the less crime and deviance among both delinquent and nondelinquent youthThese results perhaps do not surprise us, but they are important. They tell me the most important public safety factor may not be how long someone is incarcerated but how soon thereafter they settle down to raise a family and whether they find gainful employment. Marriage, job structure and daily routine are important facets of transforming delinquents into law abiding adults, said Laub. A key
component in the desistance process is gaining structure in life. The men who desisted from crime shared a daily routine that provided both structure and meaningful activity. Structure often led the men to disassociate from delinquent peers, a major factor in abandoning crimeHere's yet another example where stronger community supervision may produce more crime reducing impacts than long-term incarceration. Do current TYC parole policies ensure juveniles ending their incarceration will enter a structured, disciplined environment, or do we more or less just cut them loose? After all, everyone but a handful of offenders will eventually get out of prison, no matter how long their sentence. This study supplies evidence that, whenever they get out, the most important factor regarding whether they re-offend is whether they enter a structured environment upon release.
Finally, directly refuting Sen. Williams' hawkish stance favoring long-term incarceration for violent youth offenders, Laub wrote:
What is ... striking from our life histories is that there appears to be no major differences in the process of desistance for nonviolent and violent juvenile offenders.So most juvenile offenders won't remain life-long criminals, and violent youth, according to this data, are no less likely to desist from criminal behavior than nonviolent ones. Then what's the point of sentencing juveniles to prison for decades? Bottom line, whether offenders cease committing crimes mostly has to do with whether they're able to break away from bad influences and restructure their lives in a positive way:
Although there are multiple pathways to desistance, there appears to be some important general processes or mechanisms of desistance at work. The four significant factors that we have found in our follow-up study are marriage and spouses, the military, work, and neighborhood change. What appears to be important about these processes is that they all involve, to varying degrees, the following items: a knifing off of the past from the present; new situations that provide both supervision and monitoring as well as new opportunities of social support and growth.Throughout the debates this year about the Texas Youth Commission I've heard very little reference to evidence-based strategies as the agency was supposedly being reinvented, even though there's plenty of research out there to tell us what works and what does not. Instead, decisions too often have been based on emotionalism, grandstanding and media hype. That's true in this case. Sen. Williams' stance probably plays well in the polls, but his blustering provides a poor basis for deciding what juvenile justice policies actually reduce crime.
Via Prevention Works.