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Life Course Criminology and Community Corrections

NCJ Number
Perspectives Volume: 24 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2000 Pages: 20-29
John H. Laub Ph.D.; Leana C. Allen
Date Published
There has been a general schism between theoretical criminology (explaining why people commit crime) and criminal justice practice (strategies to prevent or control criminal behavior); this paper attempts to bridge the divide by examining the implications of life-course criminology for criminal justice generally and community corrections specifically, with attention to Sampson and Laub's (1993) Age-Graded Theory of Informal Social Control.
The paper begins by explaining the life-course perspective and Sampson and Laub's theory of crime, including a brief description of the empirical support for the theory. The life course may be defined as "pathways through the life span involving a sequence of culturally defined, age-graded roles and social transitions enacted over time" (Elder, 1985). The organizing principle of Sampson and Laub's theory is social control, i.e., that delinquency is more likely when an individual's bond to society is weak or broken. In addition to the central concept of informal social control, their theory also draws from the large body of literature on continuity and change in delinquent and criminal behavior over the life course. Sampson and Laub's theory recognizes the importance of both stability and change in the life course and proposes three thematic ideas regarding age-graded social control. The first concerns the mediating effect of structural and bonding variables on juvenile delinquency; the second centers on the consequences of delinquency and antisocial behavior for adult outcomes; and the third focuses on the explanation of adult crime and deviance in relation to adult informal social control and social capital. This paper makes the case that certain strategies currently in use are compatible with Sampson and Laub's life course theory of crime and should, in turn, be effective in reducing criminal behavior. Other strategies that are being used are incompatible with the theory and are less likely to be effective in reducing recidivism. Finally, the paper offers suggestions for restructuring community corrections to create effective alternative sanctions based on important concepts from life-course criminology. This paper shows the relevance of life-course criminology for criminal justice practice, with a view toward reshaping the emerging vision of what community corrections should be. 52 references