Whether an individual’s behavior stays with them throughout their whole life or if it changes over time the main question posed in Developmental Theory. Research shows that crime reaches the high point in an individual’s life between the age of 17 or 18 (Cullen, 2005). Statistics by Caspi and Moffitt (1995) show that “the majority of criminal offenders are teenagers; by the early 20’s the number of active offenders decreases by over 50 percent; by age 28, almost 85 percent of former delinquents desist from offending.” These statistics show that if an individual is delinquent and is going to engage in criminal activity, it most likely will occur during these youth years. Factors could include, a person’s friends, relationships, school experiences, trying to find a job, labeling by the police, or threats by other peers. Other theories suggest that reasons for criminal outbreak during youth years are due to something that occurred during their childhood. Therefore, Cullen states that most published theories are not correct because they look at occurrences that happen later in life (dropping out of school), which occurred after the criminal activity began. The development theory addresses these issues and why people come in and out of crime (Cullen, 2005).
The theory of continuity is when an individuals’ behavior is “table and continuous – or marked by change – behavior on one pathway departs and heads in an alternative direction” (Cullen, 2005). Theorists in this category typically agree that criminal behavior is due to occurrences during childhood. The individual trait perspectives usually are seen as part of the theory of continuity because once a behavior develops it is hard to “get rid of” it (Cullen, 2005), therefore once an individual begins engaging in illegal behavior, they continue to engage in that same type of behavior. Gottfredson and Hirschi assess that “low self control” begins at childhood. Further, they state, “individuals with low self control will tend to be impulsive, insensitive, physical, risk taking, short sighted, and non-verbal” (Cullen, 2005) and they are resistant to change once classified with low self control.
The theory of continuity or change, developed by Terrie Moffitt, proposes that “the jump in crime during the teenage years conceals two groups that take very different developmental pathways into crime” (Cullen, 2005). One of the groups she labels “life-course persistent offenders” (LCPs). The LCPs begin their antisocial behavior early and continue with this type of behavior through their youth. “Adolescent-limited” offenders (ALs) being and complete their criminal behavior during their adolescence. This is the reason for the high amount of criminal activity during teenage years: “the high offending of the LCPs and the temporary offending of the ALs” (Cullen, 2005).
Continuity and change is the third theory discussed in the developmental theory. This theory assumes that people can get caught up in events that cause a continuous stream of behavior for a certain amount of time. However, there is a time in their life where they can reach a turning point and change their ways (i.e. their criminal behavior). Factors in a child’s life such as instability and conduct problems are contributing factors to why these youth fall into crime; however they can reach a turning point after they have gotten over previous experiences and they do not affect them anymore.
The argument of what causes people to act criminally will continue to be a huge issue. Everyone sees different strengths and weaknesses of each theory depending on their experiences and what their study showed. Some theorists attribute factors from early in an individual’s childhood to be the reason for engaging in crime (divorce, living in poverty), while others attribute criminality to events that occurred during the teenage years (bad schooling experience, hanging out with bad influences). Each of these theories are accurate and make sense, however I do not think criminal behavior can be attributed to one particular time in their life. I believe that it is all events that build up that result in criminal behavior.