Title: Exploring Violent Careers over the Life Course: A Study of Urban African American Males and Females
Name: Elaine Eggleston Doherty
Associate Professor
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice
University of Missouri, St. Louis
Year: 2012, 2014
Type: Research Grant

The primary purpose of this two-year project was to examine the criminal career dimensions and patterns of violence among a cohort of urban African American males and females into mid- adulthood because most of what we know about patterns of violence within the same individuals over the life course is from White males or from samples that have included African American males and females but only through early adulthood (i.e., 20s and 30s). Data come from a prospective developmental study of a community cohort of African American first graders from the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago (N=1,242) who were initially studied in 1966 (at age 6) and then assessed at 3 additional waves (ages 16, 32, and 42). For this project, in collaboration with the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority (ILCJA), we collected and coded criminal history information for the cohort from ages 17 to 52.

Overall, we found both similarities and differences between the criminal career patterns of existing published studies and the Woodlawn cohort. For instance, we found rates of participation similar to those for African Americans from national probability sample estimates. By age 52, 65.2% of the 589 males (n=384) and over one-quarter of the 628 females (28.8%, n=181) had been arrested at least once. Moreover, 45.8% of the male cohort (70.3% of the male offenders) and 12.1% of the female cohort (42.0% of the female offenders) had at least one violent arrest. However, the violence trends over time are in contrast to the typical age-crime curve identified among Whites. Among the Woodlawn men there is a steady to increasing pattern throughout the 20s and 30s with close to 20% of the male cohort still being arrested for violence in their mid-30s. In fact, the prevalence rates of property and violence are similar throughout the 20s and 30s for the Woodlawn men. Violence among the females also shows a steady rate even farther into adulthood (throughout the 40s) but at lower rates with approximately 3% of the cohort arrested for violence between ages 17 and 42 before falling to below 1% by age 52. This finding is in contrast to the current contention based on largely white samples that high rates of violence are limited to a small cohort or to young adulthood.

In sum, the extension of criminal history data into the 50s for the Woodlawn cohort provides a unique opportunity to examine the patterns of violence among a sample that represents an understudied population. Thus, these descriptive analyses contribute to the larger body of knowledge regarding the relationship between age and crime and the unfolding of the criminal career for African American males and females.

Bibliography: Doherty, Elaine Eggleston and Margaret E. Ensminger (2014). "Do the Adult Criminal Careers of African Americans Fit the "Facts"?" Journal of Criminal Justice 42: 517-526.