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Title: Specialisation in offending behaviour
Author: Youngs, Donna.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3575 8944
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2001
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The criminological literature remains unclear on whether criminals are specialists, having predilections to commit only certain types of crime or are versatile such that whether they commit one type of crime rather than another is a product of situation and opportunity. These divergent views have implications both for explanations of offending and for appropriate interventions with offenders, yet, extensive empirical effort has failed to establish whether criminals are specialists or not (e.g. Britt 1996, Mak 1993, Blumstein et al. 1988, Farrington et al. 1988). One approach to resolving this debate lies in the appropriate conceptualisation of consistency within criminal behaviour. The notion of the specialist offender implies a set of restrictive assumptions about the quality and form of any consistent patterns within an individual's offending behaviour. Consideration of the possible theoretical bases of criminal specialisation leads to the development of a number of alternative proposals based on Social Cognitive theory (Bandura 1986) for the form and substantive nature of any specialisation tendencies and the variations which there may be across offenders. In exploring specialisation within criminal behaviour, the present research examines the evidence for these different ideas about how specialisation may exist. Patterns of co-occurrence within 42 offending behaviours as self-reported by 185 convicted young offenders are investigated. Tendencies towards specialisation are examined in three stages. In the first stage, multidimensional scaling analyses are used to identify distinct styles of crime within a general structure of criminal differentiation. The second stage is an exploration of the consideration of the social, psychological and criminal context in which the distinct styles are set, through consideration of their patterns of correlates. In the third stage of analysis the offenders' patterns of behaviour in relation to the differentiated styles are then examined for evidence of specialisation. The analyses reveal some tendency towards specialisation within the criminal behaviour of the offenders. The form of these specialised tendencies is not consistent with the ideas implicit in the specialist metaphor. Rather, the structure of criminal differentiation revealed in the multidimensional scaling analyses suggests that the offending behaviours co-occur in a way which reflects multiple sources of variation,such that the overall structure of offending behaviour is best described in terms of a system of interrelating components, rather than in terms of distinct parts. Within this systemic model of crime distinct patterns of offending behaviour are differentiated in the form of broad subsystems of activity. Two components of offending behaviour provide the basis for the differentiation of these offending styles. One is the type of gain for the offender which could be associated with the offending behaviours. Three trends relating to Bandura's (1986) Sensory, Power and Material general behaviour incentives are differentiated. The second component of offending behaviour underlying the differentiation is the degree of gain associated with the offending behaviour such that broad trends towards high or low gain behaviours are identified. The distinct styles relating to the Sensory, Power and Material incentives emerge at a higher level of gain, while low gain criminal activity remains undifferentiated. Examination of behaviour patterns within these high gain subsystems reveals specialisation which is relative rather than absolute, meaning that offenders tend to report some involvement in all subsystems, but tend to show higher levels of activity within one particular subsystem. Analysis of the offenders' profiles of activity across the High-Material gain, High-Power gain and High-Sensory gain styles reveals offending patterns which vary in both the type and the degree of specialisation. With regard to type of specialisation, the key distinction is between involvement in either the Sensory or the Power specialism, while Material offending plays a more central role featuring 10 the majority of offending profiles. The degree of specialisation revealed within the offending patterns varies such that while some offenders specialise in one high gain offending style, others are versatile showing a diverse involvement in all styles. Drawing on Social Cognitive principles (Bandura 1986) a model of criminal specialisation is proposed within which this range of offending profiles may be understood. It is argued that the variations in the breadth of activity across the 3 styles of offending may reflect developmental stages in the offender's criminal career, which relate to the extent of the offender's criminal social learning. The proposal is then that with increased experience of diverse criminal models offenders move from no high gain activity to a 'specialised' involvement in one high gain style through a broader involvement in two of the high gain styles to a diverse involvement in all offending styles. Both the rate of progress along such a path and how far an offender progresses will relate to the details of the offender's exposure to these criminal models. The profiles of offending activity which emerge in the present study suggest that there may be 4 distinct paths which an offender may follow depending on the particular pattern of criminal social learning experienced. Examination of the characteristics of the offenders carrying out the different behaviour profiles reveals a pattern of correlates which is consistent with the proposed model of criminal specialisation. In sum, the question of whether criminals are specialists or not has been confused by a lack of clarity on how any such consistencies may exist. Certainly there is little support for the conceptualisation of consistency within criminal behaviour in terms of the stereotypical ideas about specialists. Rather, the present study shows that criminal specialisation relates to different types of gain, at a high level of gain only, with versatility in relation to low gain offending activities. At the higher level of gain specialisation is revealed as a tendency towards relatively higher levels of activity within broad subsystems of offending behaviour. Within the present sample this specialisation emerges for some offenders only; other offenders show partial specialisation, while still others are versatile. A Social Cognitive developmental model of specialisation is proposed within which these variations in specialisation reflect different stages along paths of criminal social learning. Criminal behaviour, then, is best understood not in terms of 'specialisms', but in terms of distinct developmental paths along which specialisation is one stage. The implications of this model of criminal specialisation and versatility are discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Criminal