The Career Criminal

The career criminal The career criminal, or, more pointedly, those individuals who participate in criminal acts on a regular basis for both a central and constant source of income has, generally, a specific set of identifying factors which, while conclusive in laymen’s terms, fail to meet the criteria necessary for scientific inquiry. While definitions exist as to what a career criminal is, the research methods employed in determining these definitions are a large point of contention for criminal justice theorists, especially due to their potential and virtually imminent inclusion to modern hypothesis on the subject. These research methods include longitudinal data collection and compilation, cross-sectional data collection and compilation, and, as at least one group of theorists argue, the most efficient method, informative interviewing. The longitudinal research method employs a data collection technique which focuses on the duration of a particular act–in this case, the so-called criminal career–based not upon specific incidents, but the length of time measured between such acts (Blumstein, Cohen, and Farrington, 1988). That is, an individual’s propensity for criminal conduct in a so-called career mode would be measured first by the original act as an origin, then with the succeeding acts, until a final point became evident. Therefore, such a research method would logically conclude that an individual who performed or participated in criminal conduct on two occasions several years apart would be considered a career criminal.

It is for this reason, that criminal justice theorists differ as to the applicability and relevance of the longitudinal research method (Blumstein, Cohen, and Farrington, 1988). Since the longitudinal research method could construe two independent–or even two interdependant–criminal acts as the foundational make-up of a career criminal, theorists may hypothesize incorrectly as to the actuality of an individual having a career based in criminal behavior. Because it is widely believed by opponents of the longitudinal research method that the mere occurrence of two criminal acts spaced out over an individual’s lifetime or testing window is not indicative of the so-called career criminal modus operandi, the research method has increasingly lost its popularity and application in such studies, unless, of course, it is supported or otherwise confirmed by other utilized research procedures (Blumstein, Cohen, and Farrington, 1988). One of these alternative testing and research methods is the cross-sectional data collection and compilation model. The cross-sectional data collection and compilation model, when applied to the criminal career hypothezation, measures the probability of occurrence of a particular act of criminal conduct or other so-called criminal behavior.

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The cross-sectional model allows for a glimpse into each individual criminal act which may be thought to, when compiled, comprise a framework which indicates that individual is a career criminal. For this reason, the cross-sectional model is infinitely more applicable and accurate in determining, or at least providing indicators which would lead to a determination, of conduct constituting that of a career criminal. While such assistance is immeasurable for a determination of whether or not an individual is a career criminal, it still falls short of a definite model for such identification. For this reason, many criminal justice theorists feel that the individual application of the cross-sectional model is inappropriate for its unsupported inclusion into relevant scientific hypothesis. Once again, however, when such data is adequately supported or otherwise confirmed by other information, inclusion is proper. Criminal justice theorists have relied on either one, or both models since the inception of investigation into all areas of criminal behavior.

Such data, however, comes under fire if, and when, other theories surface which either provide additional information, or information which is more in-depth and in deference to that data already obtained and reported upon (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1988). The dilemma, of course, is that regardless of how detailed and in-depth even the most comprehensive of testing techniques are, there is always one method which is the most detailed, as it originates from the primary source. This data is called informative interviewing (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1988). Informative interviewing is a method through which criminal justice theorists acquire information from the primary source (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1988). In the case of the present issue, deliberating over the question of what behavior is indicative of a career criminal, information would most probably be extracted from those individuals who exhibited the stereotypical traits of what is referred to as a career criminal.

These would include individuals whose primary source of income is derived from the perpetration of crimes, the acquisition and conversion of cash or property into cash for personal use, and the consistency of these acts. That is, are they performed on a verifiably consistent basis to the aforementioned ends of sustaining life for a particular individual (Weis, 1991). Alternatively, the informative interviewing method would need to address those groups which other testing methods and their proponents have identified as possible career criminals. These would include those individuals who perpetrate more than one criminal act in the course of their lifetime or testing window, and those who perpetrate multiple criminal acts in an effort to maintain financial stability, as illuminated by the longitudinal research method and the cross-sectional data collection and compilation model, respectively (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1988). In total, the informative interviewing technique is the most inclusive of all the testing measures, as it does not presuppose the existence of facts or reasoned support thereof, nor rely on a multitude of secondary sources for its hypothetical theorizations. Opponents, however, argue that the single, most important drawback to utilization of the informative interview technique for central reliance in a scientific study, is that there exists no guarantee that the information being obtained from the individual in question is, indeed, a factual representation of his or her physical and mental manifestations and reasoning prior to, during, and after performance of the criminal act (Weis, 1991).

Though this seems a wholly valid and relevant argument based on the stereotypical nature of such individuals who maintain or, at least, are thought to maintain a life of crime, the scientist-interviewer has a better probability of determining the truthfulness of the individual when he or she is face to face, rather than viewing so-called research on a two dimensional document (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1988). For this reason, it seems that the informative interviewing technique is the most reliable indicator of an individual’s propensity to maintain a career firmly rooted in criminal activity. Finally, the very issue of career criminals cannot be determined by those studies which seek to apply a virtual cornucopia of variables and other indicators into a multi-tiered graphic conceptualization of a theory (Weis, 1991). This is so because such a conceptualization, while attempting to scientifically duplicate the environment which produces career criminals, cannot, and thus leads the criminal justice theorist on a road wrought with balances and counterbalances which seek to clarify and provide for those responses which do not otherwise fall into the neatly, albeit mechanically defined categories (Elliot, 1994). Such is not the nature of a career criminal, and, ironically, may be indicative to the very mechanisms he or she seeks to obviate when choosing such an alternative, societally unaccepted posture as to self-sustenance. As the informative interview points out, asking someone who knows is infinitely more reliable than relying on text written by someone who thinks they know.

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