lescents who begin offending at a younger age more likely to be adult offenders (Kazemian, Farrington, and LeBlanc, 2009; Piquero, Hawkins, and Kazemian, 2012). Estimates of the continuity of offending also vary depending on whether self-report or arrest is used as the indicator of criminal activity (Loeber et al., 2008). Depending on where the sample of juvenile offenders is drawn from in the juvenile justice system, in almost all studies, however, only a minority of juvenile offenders do become adult criminals. Even in a sample of serious (felony level) juvenile offenders, the majority of adolescents report very low levels of offending three years after court involvement (Mulvey et al., 2010).
In addition, juvenile and adult offenders reduce criminal behavior over time enough to be indistinguishable in their risk of offending from individuals who have never committed a crime (Kurlychek, Brahm, and Bushway, 2007; Blumstein and Nakamura, 2009). The time until an individual reduces his risk of offending to that of others his age varies by offense and age of the first arrest. It is worth noting, though, that a juvenile arrested at age 16 for robbery has the same likelihood of arrest as his peers when they are 24.5 years old (Blumstein and Nakamura, 2009).
Numerous theories exist about why youth persist or desist from crime, and it is generally recognized that the factors that promote desistance may be distinct from the factors that support the maintenance of a criminal lifestyle. Theories about desistance revolve around the relative influence of stable, individual differences (in traits like self-control or intelligence), the effects of developmental factors associated with late adolescence (like increased consideration of others, sense of agency, or brain maturation), and the impact of dynamic life changes (like romantic relationships or stable employment). While there is considerable empirical support for a number of these ideas, the evidence overall appears to support an interactionist view of an individual’s psychological and social assets, their current developmental challenges, and the occurrence of normative and unexpected life events (see Thornberry et al., 2012). The extant capacity of adolescents and young adults to address the emerging challenges and roles of early adulthood, interacting with the skills and social resources that they might acquire during this period, make the difference in reducing antisocial activity. There is considerable work ahead, however, to fill in the picture of how these multiple factors mesh together to promote desistance (Laub and Boonstoppel, 2012).
The juvenile justice system needs to respond forcefully to serious, chronic, and violent offenders, but it should always be recognized that the proportion of youth who fall in this category, even among youth referred to the juvenile justice system, is quite small. We recognize that serious chronic delinquents may need to be dealt with differently from other offenders, including more reliance on secure confinement in order to protect pub-