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Aging Criminals Give Up

Even criminals suffer from the vicissitudes of middle age, according to Canterbury University psychologist Barrie Stacey.

"Active criminals who are responsible for a large proportion of routine crime end or severely reduce their criminal offending as they approach middle age," says Stacey.

Crime involving property, predatory and violent offences peaks at around age 16 and declines thereafter, suggesting the need to rethink policy within the criminal justice system. While serious offending is uncommon before the teen years, the age at which the first offence occurs is possibly the best predictor of future criminal behaviour, according to his research findings.

"A central aim of public policy should be to prevent the onset of crime in the pre-adult years and to encourage cessation by offenders. Minimal penalties for juveniles and adolescents, together with severe penalties for older adults, appear unlikely to promote this aim," Stacey argues.

He suggests a need for special protective efforts with at-risk children and their families. Delaying the onset of a criminal career and reducing the number of offences committed within such a career would be a major benefit. The careers of older criminals could be reduced by speeding up the process of retirement from crime. Stacey says that such efforts may well yield disproportionate positive results to the resources required.

There are many factors involved in encouraging older criminals to give up their lifestyle. Offenders move away from physically demanding and riskier crimes. They become increasingly cautious and distrustful of other offenders, and have difficulty gaining and maintaining partners.

"With greater age, offenders tend to find conventional lifestyles more satisfying," says Stacey. "For many, with aging there is a growing realisation that crime is not a productive activity, and that their own time is running out."

Stacey notes that positive social factors bonding an individual to society -- employment, marriage, a family, education -- help to wean the older criminal from criminal behaviour. It can be difficult to encourage these factors, and Stacey says that policy moves should be made to develop this area.

"Preventive interventions from the late 30s on should have an increasingly likely chance of interfering with the continuation of criminal careers," he says.