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Pathways Between Child Maltreatment and Adult Criminal Involvement

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2017
2 pages
This article summarizes the methodology and findings in a grantee report on a NIJ-funded project entitled "Pathways Between Child Maltreatment and Adult Criminal Involvement."
This research sought to address a gap in research-based knowledge about the processes through which child abuse leads to subsequent antisocial and criminal behavior. This was done by identifying factors that explain the link between child maltreatment and criminal behavior in adulthood. This study relied on data obtained from one of the longest running national studies that examined the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect (the Lehigh Longitudinal Study). Overall, the findings suggest that interventions intended to reduce the negative consequences of child abuse on adult criminal behavior should focus on the developmental timing of the emergence of antisocial behavior. When it emerges in childhood and adolescence, the behavior should be directly targeted through various behavioral modification techniques, so as to prevent it from persisting into adulthood. For adolescent girls maltreated as children, the emphasis should be on reducing internalizing behavioral dynamics that may include depression, social withdrawal, and anxiety during middle childhood. If antisocial and criminal behavior persist into adulthood, the focus should then be on relationships with antisocial peers and romantic partners, so as to reduce the normalization of criminal behavior. The Lehigh Longitudinal study, from which the data for this study were taken, began in the 1970s. It tracked approximately 450 children from preschool to adulthood. Beginning at 18 months to 6 years of age, reports of child abuse were obtained from either parents or child protective services agencies. These data were then linked to self-reported criminal involvement 30 years later. Antisocial behavior was also measured in the intervening years during middle childhood and adolescence.

Date Published: October 1, 2017