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Exploring Theoretical Linkages Between Self-Control Theory and Criminal Justice System Processing

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 34 Issue: 2 Dated: March/April 2006 Pages: 153-163
Matt DeLisi; Mark T. Berg
Date Published
March 2006
11 pages
Based in Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990) self-control theory of criminal behavior, this article presents a preliminary conceptual framework for examining an offender's level of self-control as a key variable in explaining variations in the decisionmaking of criminal justice professionals regarding the management and processing of arrestees, defendants, and offenders.
Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) proposed that low self-control is a key variable in explaining criminal and antisocial behavior. A number of research studies have provided empirical support for this theory; however, no studies have examined whether a person's level of self-control influences how he/she is managed after having contact with the police and subsequent contacts with other criminal justice decisionmakers. Persons with low self-control tend to be short-tempered, impulsive, resistant to external controls, and generally undiplomatic in social relationships. It is possible that criminal justice professionals react negatively to these traits associated with low self-control. Offenders with low self-control might consistently antagonize police, court officers, and correctional staff, causing them to make more punitive decisions toward these individuals than those who are more compliant, agreeable, diplomatic, and likable. An offender's low self-control might also explain a lack of consistency in decisionmaking across criminal justice agencies; for example, uncooperative behavior in interactions with police may produce a retaliatory decision to arrest the person; however, the case may not be charged by the prosecutor due to lack of evidence, or it may be dismissed by the court when evidence is insufficient for a conviction. Low self-control may also explain poor performance in corrections and persistently adverse decisions by corrections professionals. Success in most treatment and prevention programs assumes a person's ability to control and manage his/her behaviors to reach specified behavioral goals. 118 references