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Criminal careers, risk factors & desistance Some findings & observations from qualitative research with young people growing up in poor neighbourhoods.

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Presentation on theme: "Criminal careers, risk factors & desistance Some findings & observations from qualitative research with young people growing up in poor neighbourhoods."— Presentation transcript:

1 Criminal careers, risk factors & desistance Some findings & observations from qualitative research with young people growing up in poor neighbourhoods Robert MacDonald University of Teesside

2 Aims of the paper Report qualitative studies with ‘socially excluded’ young adults in some of Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods Sketch the pattern of ‘criminal careers’ uncovered, in comparison with orthodox risk factor approaches Focus on processes & questions of desistance from criminal & drug-using careers

3 Qualitative studies of youth transitions, ‘social exclusion’ & ‘the underclass’ (fieldwork ) In some of poorest neighbourhoods in England (Teesside, NE England) Biographical interviews; 186 white, working-class young adults …Recruited ‘theoretically’/ ‘opportunistically’ via agencies, snowballing etc ‘Participant observation’ & ‘stake-holder’ interviews Fourth study underway…

4 Snakes & Ladders JRF (2000) Disconnected Youth? ESRC (2005) Poor Transitions JRF (2004) Two Steps Forward? JRF (2010) Fieldwork: Sample: n.98 n. 88 Ages: yrs yrs = → 186, white, working-class young women & men from poor locales of Teesside (core sample) n yrs (all drawn from previous two studies) n yrs (half drawn from previous three studies) Focus on: ‘mainstream’ & ‘alternative’ careers in one poor locale Social exclusion, youth transitions & the underclass debate Following up: young parenting, long-term criminality, economic marginality ‘Recurrent poverty’ & ‘poor work’; following up some young people, now in 30s

5 Teesside, North East England: ‘one of the most de- industrialised locales in the UK’ (Byrne, 1999) Middlesbrough - most concentrated poverty in England Research in wards - all top 5% most deprived nationally 2 wards in worst 5 - from 8,414 - in England in 2000 Multiple deprivation

6 Understanding youth transitions The outcome of individual agency, local (sub)culture & social structural constraint Empirical/ analytical focus on interplay of: ‘school-to-work’ (e.g. training, jobs, unempl.) family (e.g. becoming a parent, partnerships) housing (e.g. leaving home, independent living) [increasingly common in youth studies, but we add…] leisure (e.g. peer associations, identities) criminal (e.g. offending, desistance) drug-using careers (e.g. rec. to dependent use) Cross-case & within-case longitudinal, ‘life-grid’ analysis

7 Criminal careers: some numbers… Not statistically representative… 186 interviewees in first two studies (167 provided reliable/ usable accounts of criminal/ drug-using careers)  100 no criminal involvement  21 reported very short-lived (e.g. one-off) offending, usually shop-lifting  47 reported recurrent offending, all had convictions & 33 imprisoned (predominantly young men...)  26 of whom opiate users

8 The onset & establishment of criminal careers Early teenage offending = ‘normal’, brief, petty, short-lived (e.g. shop-lifting, vandalism) The longer-term criminal careers of a minority shaped by two key processes in relation to ‘school to work’, ‘leisure’ and ‘drug-using careers’

9 1. School to street… School disaffection becomes committed disengagement Simultaneous commitment to ‘street corner society’ (MacDonald & Shildrick, 2007, Leisure Studies) Truant time (& evenings) spent in (often boring) street corner socialising: ‘doing nothing’ (Corrigan, Resistance through Rituals, 1976) Sub-cultural attachment to tight, neighbourhood peer groups ‘Leisure-time crime’, in structure-less, purpose-less days

10 ‘Leisure time’ crime ‘I’m not a bad lad, a real thief. I’ve mooched [stolen from] sheds’…when you pinch summat, like a barbecue set you can sell on for £10, you can buy yourselves a few bottles of cider, can’t you? You can cure your boredom then’ (Richy, 17, Youth Trainee). ‘No, not bad crimes, not bad stuff. Just jumping in cars which were nicked. Not nicking them. Just jumping in with the lads for a spin round. Looking back, I can’t see why I did it. Daft stuff. Just the buzz. Like these two bottles of pop I nicked – and a can of after-shave – that’s my two shoplifting ones. I didn’t really need them. I just did it. For the buzz I suppose’ (Gazz, 20, YOI inmate).

11 2. ‘Enter the dragon’… For a minority of these, second key process was move from ‘recreational’ (e.g. alcohol, cannabis, speed, ecstasy) to ‘dependent’ drug use (heroin and more recently crack cocaine) Dramatic impact of ‘second-wave heroin outbreak’ (Parker et al, 1998) in Teesside in mid-90s, as many in samples progressed through mid-teens These ‘poverty drugs’ appealed to young people with troubled lives; ‘blanking out’ problems & guilt More committed, acquisitive offending ‘Drug-driven crime’ = increasingly frequent, desperate, chaotic

12 The drugs-crime nexus ‘Heroin came into Kelby in about ’95, didn’t it? I had a go at it in ’96. I didn’t even know it was heroin. It was just brown powder on a bit of foil. Like tack. No one was bang on to it then. Didn’t know it was heroin or what the risks were’. (Richard, 23, unemployed, in bail hostel). ‘That’s the way it goes. Start off smoking a bit of ganga, breaking into cars & pinching car radios & then you end up on heroin and that & it fucks you up’ (Jason, 21, YOI). ‘Prior to 16 I’d had a few cautions. It just got worse as I was getting older. Went from E to heroin. I started doing it daily to feed my habit so I was robbing everything in sight. Whatever I could sell, I’d rob. It did for me, heroin. Shoplifting, thefts, then burglary and robbery’ (Barney, 20, YOI).

13 Social networks, identities & transitions Cumulative, contingent processes of leisure & school to work careers fed deepening criminal/ drug-using careers Across all aspects of all young people’s lives, informal leisure & social networks (‘bonding social capital’) shaped identities & transitions – ‘positively’ & ‘negatively’ Social networks hardened up & narrowed down as the years passed Thus, allegiances & associations with other young men in ‘street corner society’ reinforced transition pathways, auto-biographical possibilities & social identities Progressively closing down already limited legitimate social & economic opportunities

14 Criminal careers & ‘social exclusion’ So, broad, qualitative view of youth transitions identified  committed disengagement from school  teenage ‘street corner society’ & peer allegiance  concomitant development of dependent drug-using (heroin) careers… …as key processes in shaping longer-term criminal careers of minority; here, at this time, for these people

15 Criminal careers & ‘social exclusion’ Sceptical about the literal fit of ‘social exclusion’ to these lives (given strong sense of social inclusion generated by neighbourhood-based social networks of friends & family) But, these young men’s accounts were those most redolent of deepest ‘social exclusion’: family estrangement, homelessness, recurrent/ lasting joblessness, ill-health, bereavements, failed desistance, relapse to heroin, successive imprisonment - loss, regret, shame.

16 The fit with risk factor approaches? ‘Hyperactivity at two may lead to cruelty to animals at six, shoplifting at 10, burglary at 15, robbery at 20 and eventually spouse assault, child abuse and neglect, alcohol abuse and employment and accommodation problems in later life’ (Farrington, 1994: 512)

17 Risk factor theory Individual psychopathology in childhood ‘predicts’ later forms of anti-social behaviour & crime Small group of offenders responsible for a large proportion of crime and ‘these chronics might have been identified with reasonable accuracy at age 10’ (Farrington, 1994: 566). Theoretical/ policy promise  predict & control offenders/ offending  combat crime & social exclusion via early intervention

18 Five critical reflections on risk & criminal career: 1. Indeterminacy Common risk factors were associated with but did not determine, nor predict ‘negative’ activities & outcomes e.g. the majority with sustained criminal careers had been ‘frequent truants’ but many of the latter reported zero offending e.g. low educational qualifications & school ‘failure’ shared equally across offenders & non-offenders

19 2. Weak prediction from risk factors The vast majority burdened with socio-economic, family & educational risk factors - but only a minority developed criminal careers. Impossible to differentiate those with/ without criminal careers by earlier, childhood factors (but we cannot say much about parenting style) e.g. ‘conventional’ & ‘delinquent’ siblings e.g. longer-term commitment to ‘street corner society’ a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustained criminal career

20 3. Which of the multiple risks is most significant? Difficult to know – same ‘risk’/ experience had different meanings/ consequences for different individuals and for the same individual at different biographical moments e.g. extensive truancy had multiple causes & different meanings (peer loyalties, institutional rejection, physical escape from bullying - not just school disaffection) e.g. family bereavement catalysed stronger work commitment (for Martin) versus heroin relapse (for Micky, in teens) - and second family bereavement triggered ‘desistance’ (for Micky, in twenties)

21 4. The contingency & unpredictability of transitions Youth, not just childhood, experiences important. ‘Criminal’ & ‘conventional’ destinies not set in stone in childhood, nor teenage years ‘Stuff happens’ & more ‘stuff happens’ as years pass Traumatic, single ‘critical moments’ apparently led to re- orientation away from (& towards) crime: Lisa (23) used to be ‘in with a crowd getting into trouble and doing drugs’ until she was raped by one of them. Zack (24) said that ‘the turning point’ in his life was when ‘my best mate hung himself’. He had now ‘calmed down’ and given up ‘all sorts of mad stuff’

22 5. Above & beyond individual-level risks Risk factor orthodoxy downplays the historical, geographic, economic contexts (in which these cohorts grew up):  Massive, rapid de-industrialisation, structural unemployment, welfare state retrenchment, rising ‘poor work’ & collective downward social mobility  Influx of a booming local heroin market - since mid-90s only – & associated criminal economy; victimisation, fear, neighbourhood decline, family trauma These consequences of global-local change transformed ‘the structure of opportunities’ (legal & illegal) facing local youth – creating new risks & making possible new forms of ‘socially excluded’ transition

23 Desistance from criminal & drug-using careers Poor Transitions follow up study contained surprises Apparently sustained, serious, effective (but fragile?) desistance by majority with criminal/ drug-using careers Causes/ correlates/ factors in desistance, similar to criminology of desistance from UK, US, Aus, NZ:  Parenthood (new fatherhood) ‘I’ve done every single drug you can name…//…I’ve done heroin as well. I’ve done it all. I stopped because Angela fell pregnant with the baby. So I stopped it because of the baby’ (Curtis, 21).  Partnerships (new, loving, trusting, ‘straight’ partners)  Employment (i.e. insecure ‘poor work’ typical of samples)

24 Other aids to desistance, from our studies: drug treatment & housing moves Speedy access to reliable, therapeutic, non-punitive heroin treatment with proper prescription rates (relatively rare locally at the time of study) Housing moves away from home neighbourhood (sometimes allied with new partnerships)

25 Other aids to desistance: disconnection from social networks Heroin users unanimous that their lives since mid-teenage lived in peer networks that reinforced crime/ drug use. Escaping these networks crucial to going straight.

26 Other aids to desistance: disconnection from social networks Imprisonment often welcomed as opportunity to do their ‘rattle’ (albeit under a harsh regime). A few sought a prison (rather than community) sentence – and all viewed release with trepidation – because of the drug temptations of ‘the street’. ‘You’re just going back to the same place, the same group of people and it’s easy to get back into it’ (Stu, 20).

27 Questions about desistance Why did some (with apparently similar profiles) persist? Why desistance now, for others? Difficult to disentangle cause/ effect, in retrospective narrative accounts; from social to psycho-social processes… ? Significance of contingent & chance ‘turning points’, ‘critical moments’, ‘wake-up times’ (Williamson 2004) across samples’ biographies (but not found in Barry, 2006 study, nor significance of employment...) Critical moments often catalysed dramatic & unpredictable consequences for youth transitions e.g. parental separation, housing moves, family revelations, illness, bereavement, interventions by professionals

28 Biographical re-orientation, desistance & purposeful activity Importance of contingent coming together of:  critical moments  disconnection from previous peers, identities, ‘the street’  new ‘narrative’, auto-biographical possibilities & purpose Typically associated with ‘normal’ youth transitions to adulthood (employment, partnerships, parenthood) But imprisonment decelerates processes of desistance, stalling transitions back to ‘normal life’ Difficulty of ‘growing out of crime’ here, now, for them Unattractive as partners, fathers, employees Thus, the necessity of other ‘purposeful activities’- beyond employment – for biographical re-orienation (cf: Jahoda, 1982): e.g. youth work projects, courses

29 Biographical re-orientation, desistance & purposeful activity Purposeful activity to replacing the busy-ness of drug- driven crime (and, earlier, the drift into crime from structure-less ‘truant time’) ‘It’s ‘cos I don’t occupy myself. No job to keep me busy. It does me head in just wandering around. Nothing to do. I end up knocking around with me old mates. I just get back into it. I don’t have enough to do. I just hang around here [bail hostel]. Play pool. I need more purpose. I want to go to college. I wish it would come around quicker’ (Richard, 23, in bail hostel; explaining heroin relapses…)

30 Summary & conclusions Entwined criminal & drug-using careers generated the most ‘socially excluded’ transitions in youth & outcomes in early adulthood …but only minority involvement, even in place & populations beset by extreme social & economic hardship & ‘risk’ Some general association, but ‘risk factors’ largely unable to explain or predict:  those with/ without criminal & drug-using careers  the onset & maintenance of criminal careers  the timing of desistance; desistance v. persistence

31 Summary & conclusions… Perhaps in times/ places/ populations awash with risk, explanatory power of individual-level factors is lost? Our research argues for broader, sociological analysis of non-offenders lives & lives of offenders beyond crime (e.g. leisure & drug careers, social networks, school to work careers) …and, crucially, situation of these biographies in broader panoramas of history & economy of the place

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33 References Barry, M. (2006). Youth offending in transition: The search for social recognition, Abingdon: Routledge Byrne, D. (1999) Social Exclusion, Milton Keynes: Open University press. Corrigan, P. (1976) ‘Doing Nothing’ in Hall, S., and Jefferson, T., (eds.) Resistance Through Rituals, London: Hutchinson. Farrington, D. (1994) ‘Developmental Criminology’, in Maguire, M. et al (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jahoda, M. (1982) Employment and Unemployment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Johnston, L., et al. (2000) Snakes & Ladders, JRF. MacDonald, R., & Marsh, J. (2005) Disconnected Youth? Growing up in Britain’s Poor Neighbourhoods, Palgrave. MacDonald, R. (2006) ‘Social exclusion, youth transitions and criminal careers: five critical reflections on risk’, in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 39, 3: MacDonald, R., and Shildrick, T. (2007) ‘Street Corner Society’, Leisure Studies, 26, 3: Parker, H., et al. (1998) New Heroin Outbreaks Amongst Young People in England and Wales, Police Research Group, Paper 92, London: Home Office. Shildrick, T., Garthwaite, K, MacDonald, R and Webster, C. (2010, in preparation) Two steps forward, two steps back: understanding recurrent poverty, (proposal being discussed with Policy Press, Bristol). Webster, C., et al (2004) Poor Transitions, Policy Press/JRF. Webster, C., et al (2006) ‘Predicting criminality?’, in Youth Justice, 6, 1: 7-22 Williamson, H. (2004) The Milltown Boys Revisited, Berg.


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