A Prospective Study of Offending Patterns of Youth Homicide Offenders Into Adulthood

Published date01 January 2018
Date01 January 2018
Subject MatterArticles
YVJ697233 18..36 Article
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2018, Vol. 16(1) 18-36
A Prospective Study of
ª The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permission:
Offending Patterns of Youth
DOI: 10.1177/1541204017697233
Homicide Offenders Into
Adulthood: An Examination
of Offending Trajectories and
the Crime Mix Posthomicide
Evan C. McCuish1, Jesse Cale2, and Raymond R. Corrado1
Although youth homicide offenders (YHOs) are portrayed as a group that warrants considerable
attention from the justice system because of their high likelihood of future offending, little is known
about this group’s offending trajectories and the nature of posthomicide offenses in adulthood.
These questions were investigated using a sample of male and female YHOs (n ¼ 26), violent YHOs
(n ¼ 358), and nonviolent YHOs (n ¼139), all of whom were followed prospectively into adulthood.
First, the prevalence of adult recidivism did not vary across the three groups. Second, YHOs were
more frequent offenders prior to their homicide offense than after their homicide offense, and when
they did offend posthomicide, it was typically a nonserious crime. Third, YHOs did not differ from
other offenders in their association to a specific offending trajectory. These findings are discussed in
the context of assessment and treatment of serious and violent youth.
crime mix, criminal careers, homicide, recidivism, violence, youth
A prevailing assumption is that youth homicide offenders (YHOs) represent the most serious type of
young offender, even at the “deep end” (Mulvey et al., 2004) of the justice system. The fact that they
have committed one of the most serious crimes, combined with the high costs associated with
homicide offenses (DeLisi et al., 2010), has prompted political leaders and policy makers to support
efforts to identify childhood and early adolescent risk factors that help predict which youth will be
involved in a homicide offense (DeLisi, Piquero, & Cardwell, 2014; Lee, 2013). However, there is
minimal evidence of meaningful distinctions in the developmental risk factor profiles of YHOs and
1 School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
2 University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Evan C. McCuish, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
V5A 1S6.
Email: evan_mccuish@sfu.ca

McCuish et al.
other serious and violent youth offenders that would allow for reliable predictions of risk for
involvement in a homicide offense (DeLisi et al., 2014; Farrington, Loeber, & Berg, 2012; Loeber
& Farrington, 2011). For example, although some studies have identified certain risk factors that
were more common among homicide offenders compared to other offenders, false positives
occurred in upward of 90% of cases (see Loeber et al., 2005; Loeber & Farrington, 2011). In other
words, developmental risk factors common among young homicide offenders also tend to be com-
mon for other serious and violent youth (Loeber & Farrington, 2011). Being a YHO is too rare, and
the risk factors associated with YHOs are too common among other serious and violent offenders to
reliably designate particular youth as being at-risk for involvement in a homicide offense.
The assumption that YHOs have a more serious risk factor profile compared to other serious and
violent youth is problematic because of the situational and often unplanned nature of most homicide
offenses (e.g., Felson & Steadman, 1983). Many homicide offenses arise in contexts that are similar
to other crimes such as assaults and only differ in the outcome to the victim. Furthermore, even in
cases of “planned” homicide offenses where intent to murder is present, the premature development
of executive functions combined with lower social and cognitive skills common for adolescents
mean that many of them do not fully understand the consequences of their actions (e.g., Larden,
Melin, Holst, & La˚ngstro¨m, 2006). This is particularly true for adolescents with neuropsychological
deficits (Barriga, Sullivan-Cosetti, & Gibbs, 2009). Nonetheless, the penalties and interventions
associated with homicide offenses are severe and may lead to negative consequences that result from
social processes such as labeling.
A neglected dimension of research on YHOs is the nature and extent of offending patterns
posthomicide beyond strictly recidivism. Although involvement in the juvenile justice system is a
key precursor to involvement in the adult justice system (Gilman, Hill, & Hawkins, 2015), especially
for serious and violent youth (Trulson, Haerle, DeLisi, & Marquart, 2011), a key question is whether
and how a homicide offense in youth impacts the unfolding of offending in adulthood. Given that
developmental risk factors are not likely sufficient to meaningfully differentiate most YHOs from
those involved in serious nonlethal violence (DeLisi et al., 2014), a prospective approach was used
to examine YHO and youth nonhomicide offender (YNHO) involvement in new crimes as they
transitioned through the early stages of adulthood. First, we examined changes in criminal versati-
lity, or the crime mix, pre and posthomicide among YHOs who were interviewed in adolescence as
part of the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study (ISVYOS). Second, we com-
pared offending trajectories measured from ages 12–28 across male and female YHOs (n ¼ 26),
violent youth nonhomicide offenders (VYNHOs; n ¼ 358), and nonviolent youth nonhomicide
offenders (NVYNHOs; n ¼ 139). The current state of knowledge concerning the offending patterns
of young homicide offenders is reviewed below.
Offending Patterns of Young Homicide Offenders
Studies have produced mixed results in terms of comparisons of criminal histories prior to a young
person’s involvement in homicide. This is likely related, at least in part, to the timing in adolescence
of the homicide offense. For example, DiCataldo and Everett (2008) found that YNHOs had a higher
frequency of delinquency and violence in their criminal histories compared to YHOs. On the other
hand, they found that YHOs were slightly younger (approximately 1 year) than YNHOs at the age of
their first violent conviction. Using data from the Pittsburgh Youth Study, Loeber et al. (2005)
observed that virtually all (31 of 33) of their young male homicide offenders (defined as participants
that committed a homicide up to age 26) were previously involved in violent crimes. However, using
the same data, Farrington, Loeber, and Berg (2012) found that homicide offenders were less likely to
be chronic offenders relative to other offenders. Using retrospective data on 455 habitual adult male
offenders, DeLisi, Hochstetler, Jones-Johnson, Caudill, and Marquart (2011) observed that chronic

Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 16(1)
offending, measured by arrests, was not associated with prior homicide offending. Similarly, in their
study of the population of YHOs in England and Wales, Rodway et al. (2011) found that only 52% of
YHOs were previously convicted. One possible explanation that can be drawn from these findings is
that young homicide offenders spend long periods of time incarcerated, which reduces their offend-
ing opportunities and impacts the unfolding of offending trajectories.
The lengthy sentences served by YHOs also make it challenging to examine offending patterns
following their homicide offense (Heide, Solomon, Sellers, & Chan, 2011). The few studies that
examined posthomicide offending patterns of YHOs typically relied on recidivism outcomes, most
often measured either as a reconviction or return to custody for any offense. Hagan (1997) compared
the prevalence of recidivism between YHOs (n ¼ 20) and YNHOs (n ¼ 20) over a follow-up period
of at least 5 years postrelease. Using a return to prison as the definition of reoffending, no differences
were evident in the prevalence of recidivism between the groups; 60% of YHOs reoffended during
the follow-up period compared to 65% of YNHOs. However, those convicted of first-degree murder
were never released from custody during the follow-up period. Considering that those involved in
first-degree murder may be the most serious offenders, the prevalence of recidivism among YHOs
may have been underestimated.
In a larger study from the Netherlands, Vries and Liem (2011) examined the prevalence of
recidivism among a sample of 137 YHOs. Like the study by Hagan (1997), approximately 60%
of YHOs reoffended, though the follow-up period was from 1 to 16 years. Of those followed at least
10 years, nearly three quarters (71%) reoffended. In effect, the prevalence of recidivism increased
with the length of follow-up period, with the prevalence of recidivism nearly doubling between the
first and fifth year of follow-up in the study by Vries and Liem (2011). Differences in time until
recidivism among YHOs reflected differences in the frequency of offending for this group. YHO
recidivists averaged nearly eight new crimes after their homicide, with a range of 1–42 new offenses.
Seventy-five percent of recidivists committed at least two new crimes. In effect, among recidivists,
most were multiple recidivists. Taken together, a strict emphasis on recidivism outcomes may mask
substantial within-group heterogeneity in the offending patterns of this group. Other studies have
produced comparable estimates; in a sample of 59 YHOs given adult sentences for their involvement
in murder,...

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