The Age-Crime Curve and First Principles

Gordon John Abra, University of Arizona
Jason Dean Miller, University of Arizona

Crime is a social activity. This means that it is 1) an activity; and 2) socially defined. Every action carries the potential moniker of "criminal". We begin with the cross-culturally defensible premise that nothing is inherently criminal. Even the act of killing another human being can be contextually justified within every culture. Criminal proceedings virtually always require two elements to be present in order for a person to have committed a "crime": The act itself, and some form of culpability. We demonstrate that the age-crime curve is the result of the interplay of these two factors. When people begin life, they commit hundreds of acts that are contrary to law; however, it is the fact that they are not culpable that prevents prosecution. It is our contention that the age-crime curve is in a rising phase when culpability increases at a faster rate than behavioral control, and that the curve subsequently is in a falling phase when behavioral control is sufficiently high to match high levels of culpability. In other words, infants are deviant at very high rates, but are not prosecuted as such. Teens, however, are deviant at sufficiently high rates and are deemed culpable enough to result in high rates of prosecution. Older persons are deemed fully culpable, and also have high levels of self-control, and hence low levels of prosecution.

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Updated 05/20/2006