Opportunistic Auto Theft: Diverting Juvenile Offenders

Patrice Morris, Rutgers University
Michael G. Maxfield, Rutgers University

Despite recent declines, auto theft remains a chronic problem in many large conurbations in the United States, Australia and England. Limited available research indicates that most auto thefts in these nations are opportunistic crimes, in which young thieves steal cars for thrill-seeking or temporary transportation. Experimental programs in England and selected Australian states have targeted juveniles who are believed to be responsible for most opportunistic thefts. The most promising approaches combine scientific realism and situational crime prevention to understand the mechanims of opportunistic auto theft, together with principles of effective intervention with offenders that target the specific needs of opportunistic young offenders. Drawing on opportunity theories of offending as described by Clarke, and principles of effective intervention developed by Cullen, Gendreau, and Latessa, this paper pursues three related objectives: (1) summarize rationale and results for pilot programs targeting auto thieves in Australia, Canada, and England; (2) assess potential applications and obstacles for adapting such interventions in community corrections and probation agencies in U.S. cities; and (3) present the results of an action research project in which researchers and justice professionals develop a pilot program for juvenile auto thieves in New Jersey.

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Updated 05/20/2006