Life-Course-Persistent Offenders Theory

Major Principles

The life-course-persistent offenders’ theory classifies individuals into three groups. The first group comprises of non-offenders or people who do not engage in criminal activities. The second group comprises of adolescent-limited offenders. These individuals engage in criminal activities during adolescence. The last group comprises of the life-course-persistent offenders. This group of individuals begins engaging in antisocial behavior in early childhood and continues through adulthood (Bernard, Snipes, Gerould, & Vold, 2016). The theory attributes antisocial behavior to result from neuropsychological problems that affect the unborn child. These problems could stem from poor nutrition, drug use, or other complications during pregnancy. The neuropsychological problems lead to impulsivity, and consequently involvement in antisocial behavior.

Historical Context

The life-course-persistent offenders’ theory developed from studies by Wolfgang, known as Philadelphia birth cohort studies (Blokland & Nieuwbeerta, 2010). The study published in 1972 examined delinquent behavior among boys up to 17 years of age. The findings indicated that only a small fraction of chronic offenders engaged in most of the antisocial behaviors in a particular birth cohort. This study sparked a lot of interest, prompting many researchers to conduct studies aimed at examining this active antisocial group. Another important group of studies were conducted by Eleanor Glueck and Sheldon Glueck in 1950 to investigate the development of delinquent behavior among 500 adolescent boys in various Massachusetts reform schools (Blokland & Nieuwbeerta, 2010). The 1980s and the 1990s were a period of increased longitudinal studies, which yielded robust data and helped in the development of the life-course perspective.

Major Contributors

The major contributor to the development of the life-course-persistent offenders’ theory is Terrie Moffitt, through the development of Moffitt’s taxonomy. Earlier works on life-course persistence can be traced to the works of Wolfgang, Figlio, and Selling (1972) (Skarohamar, 2010). In their work, the three established that a small fraction of chronic offenders committed over half of all recorded offenses in a particular birth cohort. In 1980, the Panel on the Research on Criminal Careers conducted a study dubbed the ‘criminal career paradigm’ (Skarohamar, 2010). This study focused on the nature of offending with regard to frequency, onset, cessation, and duration. This study also identified a pattern of chronic offenders among the cohort. The study categorized criminal tendency into ‘innocents’, ‘desisters’, and the ‘chronics’.

Major Theories

The life-course-persistent offenders’ theory falls under the category of psychological theories of criminal behavior. The psychological theories of behavior examine the psychological aspects of behavior. Psychological theories are broadly categorized into two: personality theories and those based on intelligence. The origin of the psychological theories can be attributed to Richard Dugdale. In 1874, Dugdale conducted a study that tried to unravel the family history of ‘Jukes’ with regard to crime. At the time of commencing the study, 6 members of the Juke family were in prison. By tracing the family back to over 200 years, he discovered that it had a history of antisocial behavior. Personality studies emerged strongly during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 19th century, there was a great interest among scholars such as Sigmund Freud to learn more about the unconscious, individuality, and irrationality. In 1896, Sigmund Freud published the book ‘Studies in Hysteria”, which became a major hallmark in psychology.


The theory argues that adolescent-limited offenders are likely to engage in less serious crimes compared to the life-course-persistent offenders. This is not entirely right since in some cases, even the adolescent limited offenders commit serious crimes. Another criticism of the theory is that it fails to account for various factors that may influence individuals to engage in crime from a younger age. Another criticism is that it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons why those who start offending early are more likely to encounter more serious consequences in life than those who start late.

Policy Implications

The policy implications of this theory is that it is possible for researchers to identify individuals at high risk of engaging in crime by analyzing particular personality characteristics such as hostility, jealousy, lack of impulse control, and others (Bernard, Snipes, Gerould, & Vold, 2016). Individuals who engage in crime have problems controlling their impulses or their negative emotional states. Moffitt’s theory identifies the source of impulsivity to neuropsychological issues. The implication of this is that expectant women should avoid using drugs and other substances that may affect the child.


Bernard, T. J., Snipes, J. B., Gerould, A. L., & Vold, G. B. (2016). Vold’s theoretical        criminology.
New York : Oxford University Press,

Blokland, A. A. J., & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2010). Life course criminology. In P. Knepper, & S. G.    Shoham (Eds.), International Handbook of Criminology. (pp. 51-94). London.

Farrington, D. P., & Loeber, R. (2001). Child deliquents: Development, intervention, and service             needs. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ;London: SAGE.

Skarohamar, T. (2010). Reconsidering the theory on adolescent-limited and life-course persistent             antisocial behavior. Retrieved from:


Parole and Prisoner reentry