Offending is part of a larger syndrome of antisocial behaviour that arises in childhood and tends to persist into adulthood. There seems to be continuity over time, since the antisocial child tends to become the antisocial teenager and then the antisocial adult, just as the antisocial adult then tends to produce another antisocial child. The main focus of this chapter is on types of antisocial behaviour classified as criminal offences, rather than on other types classified for example as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder.
In an attempt to identify causes, this chapter reviews risk factors that influence the development of criminal careers. Fortunately or unfortunately, thousands of variables differentiate significantly between official offenders and non-offenders and correlate significantly with reports of offending behaviour by teenagers and their peers, parents, and teachers. In this chapter, it is only possible to review briefly some of the most important risk factors for offending: individual difference factors such as high impulsivity and low intelligence, family influences such as poor child-rearing and criminal parents, and social influences (socio-economic deprivation, and peer, school, community, and situational factors). The chapter ends by proposing a theory that accounts for as many of the results as possible.
Within a single chapter, it is impossible to review everything that is known about the psychosocial causes of offending. Therefore the focus will be upon some of the more important and replicable findings obtained in some of the more methodologically adequate studies: especially prospective longitudinal follow-up studies of large community samples, with information from several data sources (e.g. the child, the parent, the teacher, official records) to maximize validity. The emphasis is on offending by males; most research on offending has concentrated on males, because they commit most of the serious predatory and violent offences. The review is limited to research carried out in the United Kingdom, the United States, and similar industrialized democracies. More extensive book-length reviews of antisocial behaviour and offending are available elsewhere. (D
Special mention is made of knowledge gained in the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development,(2) which is a prospective longitudinal survey of over 400 London males from the age of 8 to 40 years. Fortunately, results obtained in British longitudinal surveys of delinquency are highly concordant with those obtained in comparable surveys in North America, the Scandinavian countries, and New Zealand, and indeed with results obtained in British cross-sectional surveys. (3> A systematic comparison of the Cambridge Study with the Pittsburgh Youth Study showed numerous replicable predictors of offending over time and place, including impulsivity, attention problems, low school attainment, poor parental supervision, parental conflict, an antisocial parent, a young mother, large family size, low family income, and coming from a broken family/4)
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