What Becomes of Chronic Juvenile Delinquents? Multifinality at Midlife

AuthorMichael J. Elbert,Alan J. Drury,Matt DeLisi
Published date01 April 2020
Date01 April 2020
Subject MatterArticles
YVJ858741 119..134 Article
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2020, Vol. 18(2) 119-134
What Becomes of Chronic
ª The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Juvenile Delinquents?
DOI: 10.1177/1541204019858741
Multifinality at Midlife
Alan J. Drury1, Matt DeLisi2 , and Michael J. Elbert1
Popular in the field of developmental psychopathology, multifinality means that an initial condition or
status can manifest in diverse outcomes across life. Using a near population of federal correctional
clients selected from the Midwestern United States, the current study examined the association of
chronic delinquent offender status on assorted life outcomes at midlife (average age of offenders was
nearly 44 years). Although just 16% of the current offenders were formerly chronic delinquents,
they accounted for 13.9% of current employment, 54.6% of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
cases, 54% of those at the 90th percentile for arrest charges, 45.8% of those at the 90th percentile
for assaultive arrest charges, 53% of gang activity, 43.8% of lifetime traumatic brain injury, and 22.9%
of lifetime mental illness. Logistic regression models indicated that former chronic delinquency was
associated with 41% reduced odds of employment, 897% increased odds of ASPD, 81% increased
odds of 90th percentile offending, 82% increased odds of 90th percentile assaultive offending, 144%
increased odds of gang activity, 115% increased odds of traumatic brain injury, and 141% increased
odds of lifetime mental illness. Former chronic delinquency has more consistent predictive validity
among males than females and among Whites than African Americans. Multifinality is a useful
concept to understand the developmental course of chronic delinquency and assess noncriminal yet
nevertheless socially and societally burdensome outcomes.
chronic offenders, chronic delinquency, multifinality, life course, youth violence, comorbidity
A paradigmatic conversation in criminology centers on the degree to which constancy and change
typify delinquent careers and their progression across the life span. The constancy perspective posits
that a general, protean tendency, or disposition drives behaviors across the life course. These
behaviors are stable across developmental periods at least in terms of rank-order stability, that is,
those scoring very high on a trait or status will always rank higher than those scoring very low on that
trait or status (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Loeber, 1982). The
1 U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, Southern District of Iowa, Des Moines, IA, USA
2 Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Matt DeLisi, Iowa State University, 510 Farm House Lane, 203A East Hall, Ames, IA 50011, USA.
Email: delisi@iastate.edu

Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 18(2)
change perspective differentially acknowledges differences in individual-level dispositions but also
points to the multiple state–dependent processes that set into motion changes—or more specifically,
a cascade of changes—that cause ebbs and flows in conduct across life (see Cavanaugh & Cauffman,
2017; Farrington, 2003; Le Blanc, 2002; Loeber & Snyder, 1990; Piquero, 2008; Trulson, Marquart,
Mullings, & Caeti, 2005).1
As is the case with most criminological debates, there is evidence supporting both perspectives.
To illustrate, studies of diverse data sources including the Gluecks’ Unraveling Juvenile Delin-
quency cohort (Laub & Sampson, 2003), Oregon Youth Study (Patterson & Yoerger, 1999), Mon-
itoring the Future data (Schulenberg, Wadsworth, O’Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996),
Pittsburgh Youth Study (Jennings, Loeber, Pardini, Piquero, & Farrington, 2015), and the Texas
blended sentencing cohort (Trulson, Haerle, Caudill, & DeLisi, 2016) reported constancy and
dynamism in antisocial conduct even among serious delinquent offenders. As such, it would seem
the conversation is generally resolved since there is evidence for both constancy and change in youth
violence and juvenile offending: Whereas some continue to be chronically antisocial and violent,
others quietly segue from serious delinquency to more prosocial, conventional behaviors.
Such a conclusion could also be premature. It is likely that disparate evidence for criminal offending
exists because criminologists understandably focus almost exclusively on crime, offending, or recidi-
vism as evidence that an individual has continued, discontinued, or terminated their antisocial career.
However, there are additional problematic behaviors other than crime that could also reveal that the
individual has not truly desisted but continues to exert social and other behavioral problems. With this in
mind, we utilize the concept of multifinality from the developmental psychopathology literature to
examine the empirical association between chronic juvenile offending and assorted criminal and beha-
vioral outcomes among a population of federal correctional clients sampled at midlife.
Multifinality and Its Relevance to Chronic Juvenile Delinquents
Developmental psychopathology scholars employ the concept of multifinality to explore how initial
behaviors or conditions manifest in diverse outcomes across developmental periods (Cicchetti &
Rogosch, 1996; Nolen-Hoeksema & Watkins, 2011; Sroufe, 1997).2 Multifinality is helpful for
understanding if early-life pathology is associated with later-life pathology, and if so, whether the
pathological behaviors occurs in multiple life domains. In a summary work, Cicchetti (2006, p. 13)
defined multifinality in the following way:
the pathology or health of a system must be identified in terms of how adequately its essential functions
are maintained. Stated differently, a particular adverse event should not necessarily be seen as leading to
the same psychopathological or nonpsychopathological outcome in every individual. Likewise, individ-
uals may begin on the same major pathway and, as a function of their subsequent “choices,” exhibit very
different patterns of adaptation or maladaptation.
From this quotation, chronic juvenile delinquent status is the “adverse event” or “pathway” that is
the similar initial stage and from that initial stage, a variety of developmental sequences can follow.
To revert to the introduction, multifinality would explain why some former chronic delinquents
exhibit constancy and maintain serious criminal careers, why rehabilitated others disengage from
antisocial conduct, and why still others perhaps desist from criminal offending but assume other
problematic statuses that also contribute to social and societal burden.
Despite its clear relevance to understanding long-term outcomes of former chronic juvenile
delinquents, surprisingly few criminological studies employed multifinality to understand the devel-
opmental course of chronic juvenile offenders even though their results clearly substantiated it.3 For
example, three influential sourcebooks on chronic delinquents (Howell, Krisberg, Hawkins, &

Drury et al.
Wilson, 1995; Loeber & Farrington, 1999, 2001) cumulatively devote zero pages to multifinality.
Nevertheless, several works on long-term consequences of chronic delinquency provide compelling
evidence for multifinality. Drawing on data from the Medical Research Council National Survey of
Health and Development British 1946 birth cohort, Colman and colleagues (2009) examined 40-year
follow-up of persons that were chronic/severe juvenile delinquents. They found that former chronic
delinquents were significantly more likely than other milder conduct groups to experience a broad
range of negative life outcomes including failure to attain educational qualifications, lower social
class, unemployment, and financial difficulties. In addition, more than 40% of former chronic
delinquents exhibited the most adversity in a global life adversity index, a nearly 3-fold higher
prevalence than persons who did not have conduct problems during adolescence.
Using Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development data, Piquero, Farrington, Nagin, and Mof-
fitt (2010) reported that former chronic juvenile delinquents were significantly likely to experience
life failure, which was a composite measure based on offending, housing stability, marital stability,
employment, substance use, and mental health functioning at both ages 32 and 48. Moreover, the
effects for chronic delinquency on life failure at age 48 remained even when controlling for beha-
vioral and criminal career covariates one of which was life failure at age 32.
In a related study, Piquero, Shepherd, Shepherd, and Farrington (2011) examined how adolescent
offending trajectories affected health outcomes at midlife again through age 48 years. High-rate
chronic juvenile offenders had significantly poorer health than lower offending groups in the Cam-
bridge data. Specifically, former juvenile chronic offenders had nearly 4 times higher odds of
hospitalization and nearly 13 times higher odds of registered disability status between ages 43 and
48. The authors likely correctly attributed these effects to high-risk behaviors, deviant lifestyles, and
parasitic tendencies to take advantage of the benefits system. Although the outcomes in their study
were not criminal offending per se, they were nevertheless antisocial and socially burdensome—
clear evidence of multifinality. In a follow-up study with the same data source, former chronic
juvenile delinquents had a 7-fold higher risk of death by age 57, a...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT