Pathways to Becoming a Serious Youthful Offender

Michael E. Ezell, Duke Universty
Kenneth C. Land, Duke Universty

The serious youthful offender has garnered much attention from criminologists for reasons of both theoretical and public policy importance. Serious youthful offenders, however, are an elusive class of offenders because they are (fortunately) rare in the population of offenders, and thus researchers are often forced to empirically "lump" together offenders who have met some minimum definitional criteria that usually involves a measure of either seriousness and/or chronicity (McDermott, 1983). After "making the cut," this group of offenders is usually treated as a homogeneous group. In this paper, we investigate the degree of heterogeneity in the youthful offending careers of three samples of youthful offenders released from the California Youth Authority in 1981-82, 1986-87, and 1991-92. Analyses include investigations of the distribution of age of onset and application of the mixed Poisson model of Nagin and Land (1993) to separate the offenders into discrete groups on the basis of similar offending trajectories. Results indicate that age of onset, even among this extreme group, is a smooth continuous distribution that is not easily parsed into two discrete groups (i.e., early vs. late onset) and that there is more than one "pathway" or trajectory to the status of youthful offender.

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Updated 05/20/2006