How childhood behavior and experiences are linked to adult criminality
It is not well known how child maltreatment triggers later antisocial and criminal conduct. By identifying characteristics that explain the connection between child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior, recent findings from NIJ-funded research carried out by Dr. Herrenkohl and colleagues contribute to closing this knowledge gap. The Lehigh Longitudinal Study, one of the longest-running national projects looking at the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect, was used to recruit participants.
The project has followed about 450 kids from preschool through adulthood since the 1970s. When the children were between the ages of 18 months and 6 years old, allegations of child abuse from Child Protective Services files and parental complaints of abusive parenting were gathered, and three decades later, they were related to self-reported criminal activity.
Middle childhood and adolescence, the transitional years, were also used to gauge antisocial behavior.
The findings indicated that child maltreatment enhanced the probability of adult crime by encouraging antisocial conduct in childhood and adolescence, which was followed by the development of relationships with antisocial friends and romantic partners in adulthood.
The paths connecting child maltreatment and adult criminality revealed gender disparities, too, according to the researchers. The relationship between childhood physical and emotional abuse and adult crime varied across men and women, even while connections with antisocial peers in adulthood increased criminal activity for both men and women with histories of such abuse.