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Socially Bounded Decision Making of Persistent Property Offenders

NCJ Number
Howard Journal Volume: 31 Issue: 4 Dated: (November 1992) Pages: 276-293
Date Published
18 pages
This article reports on the results of an ethnographic investigation of criminal decisionmaking by a sample of persistent property offenders.
The information for analysis was obtained during 1987 and 1988 as part of a larger study of crime desistance. From the population of all men incarcerated in Tennessee State prisons during 1987, the researchers selected a sample of recidivists with a demonstrated preference for property crimes and who were nearing release. Each member of the sample (60 subjects) was interviewed approximately 1 month prior to release from prison. Forty-six members of the original sample were then interviewed 7 to 10 months after their release. Semi-structured ethnographic interviews were the primary data-collection technique. The interview included questions about the former inmate's activities and living arrangements following release, self-report items that measured postrelease criminal activities, and questions about the context of recidivism. The interviews yielded 40 usable descriptions of crimes and attempted crimes, including 15 burglaries, 12 robberies, 5 grand larcenies, 4 unarmed robberies, 2 auto thefts 1 series of check forgeries, and 1 case of receiving and concealing stolen property. A striking finding was that the majority of those interviewed gave little or not thought to the possibility of being arrested and imprisoned for their crimes. The decisionmaking of many persistent property offenders was based in a lifestyle that can be called "life as party." This is the enjoyment of "good times" with minimal concern for obligations and commitments that are external to the person's immediate social setting. When offenders' efforts to maintain their party pursuits are largely successful, crimes are committed to sustain circumstances or a pattern of activities they experience as pleasurable. By contrast, when offenders are less successful at party pursuits, their crimes are committed to forestall or avoid circumstance perceived as threatening, unpleasant, or precarious. Corresponding to each of these two phases of party pursuits is a distinctive set of utilities and stance toward legal risk. Implications are drawn for theories of criminal decisionmaking. 42 references

Date Published: January 1, 1992