Violent crime poses a grave concern to society. In addition to serious costs incurred by victims, including injury, lost earnings, and mental health difficulties, violent crime also results in direct costs to the medical, judicial and penal systems (Waters, Hyder, Rajkotia, Basu, & Butchart, 2005). Prevention and early intervention efforts are needed but hampered by a lack of research focused specifically on identifying the developmental factors that best predict violent (as opposed to general or nonviolent) crime.
This study aimed to advance this area of research by exploring differential risk factors associated with violent and nonviolent crime in a sample of children (N = 754) over-sampled for aggressive-disruptive behavior. Childhood dysfunction (aggression, emotion dysregulation, and social isolation) was assessed in late childhood, and risky socialization experiences (parent detachment and deviant peer affiliation) were assessed in early adolescence. Court records of violent and nonviolent crime were accessed in early adulthood.
Childhood dysfunction predicted the later emergence of both violent and nonviolent crime but was more strongly linked with violent crime. Adolescent socialization experiences (deviant peer affiliation) mediated the link between childhood dysfunction and nonviolent crime but were not predictive of violent crime.
The findings underscore the key role of childhood dysfunction in the development of violent crime and suggest that interventions targeting future violent crime need to start early, promoting positive social-emotional development and addressing childhood aggression and peer difficulties. Focusing on adolescent parent and peer relations may reduce nonviolent crime but fail to address the developmental roots of future violence.
Directions for future research include exploration of the role of early experiences in the development of childhood dysfunction and possible moderation of these developmental pathways by contextual factors (e.g., neighborhood crime levels, economic disadvantage, family stress).
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