A small group of chronic offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. Predicting who might develop into a chronic offender is a promising approach to crime prevention. This study examined the relationship between an offender’s debut offence and their future offending.
A debut offence is when an offender received their first caution or conviction. The study specifically looked at whether the type of debut offence committed predicted future chronic or serious offending careers, and whether the type of debut offence and subsequent re-offending had changed over time.
The study revealed that there were 218,537 individuals on the Police National Computer who had committed their first proven offence in 2001. Around three-quarters of the cohort were male and over one-third were aged 10 to 17 years at the time of their first offence.
About one-third of these debut offences were acquisitive, one-fifth were violence and one-tenth were categorised as serious crimes.
Just under one-half of the 2001 cohort committed a further proven offence during the 9-year follow-up period. However, 5 per cent of the cohort became chronic offenders , committing 15 or more offences, over the follow-up period and were responsible for nearly one-half of all proven re-offences committed by the cohort.
Those offenders who had committed robbery, burglary or vehicle theft as their debut offence were almost three times more likely to be chronic offenders compared with the cohort overall. These offenders were predominantly male and most likely to have received their first caution/conviction aged 10 to 17 years.
The type of debut offence committed was a significant predictor of chronic offending status, taking into consideration gender and age at debut offence. For example, 1 in 5 young men aged 10 to 17 years at their first caution/conviction for robbery went on to be a chronic offender; 3 in 5 re-offended (but committed fewer than 15 re-offences) while only 1 in 5 did not commit a further proven offence. The results for burglary and vehicle theft were similar.
Offenders who committed robbery, burglary or vehicle theft as their debut offence were also most likely to commit a further serious offence (for example, robbery or a serious violence or sexual offence within 9 years compared with other offence types; 44 per cent of men who committed robbery as their debut offence when aged 10 to 17 years committed a serious re-offence.
The findings from this analysis add to the debate about why crime has been falling and suggest approaches to crime prevention. This study adds to the evidence base, showing that offenders who committed robbery, burglary or vehicle theft as their debut offence in 2001 were most likely to become chronic offenders. This small group of chronic offenders, 5% of the cohort, were responsible for almost one-half of all the further proven offences committed by this cohort.
The report: Debut Offences can be downloaded here.