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Developmental Trajectories, Transitions, and Nonlinear Dynamical Systems: A Model of Crime Deceleration and Desistance

NCJ Number
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology Volume: 46 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 30-44
Glenn D. Walters
Date Published
February 2002
Borrowing principles from nonlinear dynamical systems theory -- sensitive dependence on initial conditions, chaotic attractors, and self-organization in particular -- this article proposes a model of crime deceleration and desistance in which belief systems congruent with crime are altered in phases to create belief systems incongruent with crime.
Nonlinear dynamical systems theory, also known as chaos theory, emphasizes the holism, complexity, and unpredictability of natural events. There are three principles in nonlinear dynamical systems theory that may be particularly useful in defining and explaining trajectories, transitions, and change: sensitive dependence on initial conditions, bifurcation and attractors, and self-organization. Sensitive dependence on initial conditions is a function of the nonlinear and interactive nature of variable relationships. A small change can therefore be magnified beyond its anticipated linear outcome through the principle of sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Bifurcation is the doubling of points in a system's outcome field that occurs when a critical level in mass, time, or temperature is reached; and attractors are the boundaries or parameters of that system's outcome field. Bifurcations contribute to the complexity of systems and consequently frustrate prediction. Self-organization reflects a dynamical systems' capacity to generate new forms. Hager (1992) has noted that chaotic states create developmental bridges between former constructions of reality and modified versions that have yet to become fully crystallized. Bifurcations and chaotic attractors can be conceptualized as gestation states capable of fostering growth and new synthesis. Given the self-organizational capacity of open systems, chaos furnishes opportunities for change. The degree to which change encourages desistance from delinquency and crime is a function of its ability to create more complex and integrated belief systems. A fundamental postulate of the proposed model of crime deceleration and desistance is that habitual crime can be traced to a person's belief systems and that desistance from a criminal pattern requires a commutation in belief systems. The process by which change occurs in belief systems can be divided into three phases: initiation, transition, and maintenance. These operate on the basis of the nonlinear dynamical systems principles of chaotic attractors, self-organization, and sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Directions for future research are suggested. 64 references


Length: 15 pages
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