Juvenile offending: specialisation or versatility


Juvenile offending is an important public policy issue and one that attracts a great deal of attention in the Australian media. There is an overwhelming body of evidence suggesting that adult offenders begin their criminal careers as juveniles, and that policy interventions at the early stages of these careers reduce crime rates over time. Identification of promising interventions requires an understanding of the complexities underlying the delinquent careers of juvenile offenders.

Assessment of offending patterns is an important component in the process of improving our knowledge about juvenile offending in Australia. If offending is specialised, knowledge about earlier types of offences may help to predict later offending and may be used to assist juvenile justice decision making. On the other hand, versatility in offending does not enable the path of juvenile offending to be accurately predicted, which in turn makes control and prevention of juvenile crime a difficult task.

This paper shows that juvenile property offenders stick to this type of offence while other juvenile offenders show more versatile delinquent careers. It also shows that, in general, patterns of offending for most juvenile offenders tend to remain stable over time, irrespective of whether they are versatile or specialised.

This study uses juvenile court data from New South Wales from 1991 to1996. It examines the extent to which youth offenders confine their offending to a particular type of offence, or spread their activities widely.