Why Do People Stop Committing Crimes?


There are many changes that occur from childhood to adulthood. We sometimes make decisions we regret simply because we lack the cognitive ability to make good decisions. If an adolescent commits criminal behavior but stops when he or she becomes an adult, it is important to ask why. This post seeks to expand on a previous post, in which I explored two theories of criminal behavior.

Photo courtesy of Kateryna Babaieva

Freedom and Lack of Social Control.

Firstly, age is a very telling correlate for criminal behavior. Even the most well adjusted teenagers sometimes make foolish choices. They are awkwardly uncertain of their deeper identity while trying to establish their place in the world.

Secondly, teenagers move on from childhood and are suddenly given more freedom to explore the world around them. The excitement (or danger) is due to the fact that teenagers have little experiential knowledge of the world around them. As a result, delinquents that simply mimic the behaviors of the adults around them may simply view criminal behaviors as a rite of passage. (Schram and Tibbetts, 2018).

Lastly, Sweeten, Piquero, and Stienberg (2013) note that teenage antisocial behavior peaks at around age 17. There is some debate among scholars, however, as to the direct effect age has on crime. Likewise, the degree to which social and environmental factors correlate with age and criminal behavior is arguable. An older teenager, for example, may successfully process negative environmental stimuli that would lead a younger adolescent toward criminal behavior.

To that end, it could be argued age alone will subsequently make one less susceptible to criminal behavior.

The following is a brief summary of the study, “Age and the Explanation of Crime, Revisited” published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence; February 2015.

Social Factors.

There are six social factors and corresponding variables, however, that can help propel an adolescent into adulthood. These social factors also help prevent the continuation of criminal behavior. An adolescent trending toward criminal behavior is less likely to continue if he or she is employed, for example.

Social Control.

Consider the environment surrounding the adolescent. Formal and informal variables include (but not limited to):

– The number of biological parents in the home
– Experience in a romantic relationship
– Employment
– Enrollment in school
– Regular healthy contact with family

Social Learning.

The number of criminally minded peers an individual has can affect the likelihood of the individual participating in similar behaviors. This is due to peer pressure and a simple law of averages.

Strain.

Stressors and strains are also a variable. The most common strain among at-risk adolescents includes moving from home to home and likewise a frequent change in schools.

Psychosocial.

An individual’s ability to control impulse, suppress aggression, and have a mindful consideration of others is another significant social factor.

Rational Choice.

The individual’s ability to weigh his or options and determine whether or not a crime is worth the risk. If an adolescent feels he or she has little to lose, he or she will consequently be more likely to turn to crime.

Procedural Justice.

Lastly, perception of and involvement with procedural justice is a highlighted variable.

So, Does it Take a Village?

Sweeten, Piquero, and Steinberg further assert that antisocial behavior among incarcerated individuals falls with age as well. Outside prison walls, when age and increased positive social factors are considered, crime falls.

The only variable we as a society can certainly control are the social factors. We cannot magically make someone older in order to reduce crime rates. We can. however, ensure adolescents have structures and resources in place to help increase positive social factors.

Legislative endeavors like The First Step Act and Second Chance Act are therefore giant leaps in the right direction. Employment is certainly one social control that can produce a positive high percentage outcome of variables. Above all, if vulnerable adolescents can surround themselves with structured activities and gain employment experience, rational choice toward criminal behavior will decrease. Likewise, the raw opportunity for criminal behavior will decrease as well.

So, yes. It takes a village. Kind of. As long as the village is supplying employment opportunities, I can agree with that ethos. Employment certainly appears to be a significant variable in crime reduction.


Schram, P., Tibbetts, S. (2018) Introduction to Criminology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Sweeten, G., Piquero, A. R., & Steinberg, L. (2013). Age and the explanation of crime, revisited. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(6), 921-38. doi:http://dx.doi.org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10964-013-9926-4