Dimensions of delinquency: exploring group differences in the prevalence and frequency of offending; a linkage based study of offending in the Western Australian population

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated] Aim and Methods
The purpose of this thesis is to gain a deeper understanding of the development of offending over the life course and to explore if, and how, offending behaviour varies in ways that reflect the diversity of the general population. The thesis documents the prevalence and frequency of offending in the Western Australian population and investigates whether or not there are observable “group” differences in these criminal career dimensions. “Groups” of primary interest are those defined by gender and Aboriginal status. The study uses linked, administrative data drawn from multiple government agencies. A risk factor framework is used to identify the correlates associated with participation in and frequency of offending. While the identification of correlates per se does not make explicit the mechanism by which these factors affect offending, the process is seen as an important first step towards a deeper and more causative explanation of why people offend.

Key findings
Key findings to emerge from the research are:
• Official offending is unevenly distributed in the general WA population. Offending prevalence is highest amongst males and the Aboriginal population. Aboriginal children have much earlier contact with the criminal justice system than non-Aboriginal children.
• A review of long term trends in prevalence finds evidence of net-widening following reforms to the WA juvenile justice system in the 1990s. The reforms had a much greater impact on the Aboriginal population than on other segments of the population. The individual frequency of offending was also found to have increased during 1990s, suggesting that the structural reforms of the period may also have made the justice net denser. The results point to the need for more effective monitoring and evaluation of policies, as they may result in differential effects or unintended consequences.
• Life-course patterns of offending, as modelled through group based offending trajectories, appear similar (in terms of the number and shape of trajectories) across gender and ethnic groups. This suggests that offending pathways are more shared than different across the offender population. An exploratory study of the factors associated with trajectory membership found that few of the available risk factors could discriminate between trajectories for any gender/ethnic offender group.
• Many risk factors associated with participation in offending were found to be shared across gender and/or ethnic group. The most significant risk factors associated with participation in offending include gender, Aboriginal status, assault victimisation, drug and alcohol abuse, being placed in out-of-home care, maltreatment in adolescence, sibling criminality, parent death, family mobility, low school achievement and neighbourhood disadvantage.
• Although there are some risk factors that are unique to a particular gender and/or ethnic group, on the whole there appear to be more similarities than differences in participation risk factors suggesting common underlying causal processes. The findings support the view that general, dynamic theories of crime may be better descriptors of offending participation that more specific ones.
• In terms of Aboriginal offending, two factors emerge as being protective against involvement in crime – connection to community and cultural strength. The evidence suggests that these factors may be at least as influential as some of the more recognised protective factors (e.g. educational achievement) in reducing Aboriginal involvement in crime.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


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