Understanding the ‘zig-zag’ trend of criminal careers has policy implications

Processes of Intermittency in Criminal Careers: Notes From a Swedish Study on Life Courses and Crime

From International Journal of Offender Therapy Comparative Criminology

It is generally recognized that most criminal careers follow a ‘zig-zag’ path with movements back and forth between periods of offending and nonoffending. This study considers the processes of Intermittency, whether it be a criminal life-course characterized by patterns of pauses and breaks, or of incomplete or aborted activity. The main aim of this article is to develop a qualitative understanding of intermittency among offenders with criminal careers characterized by serious and frequent criminal offending not limited to adolescence. It concludes by highlighting Implications for policy and future research.


This article explores the concept of “intermittency” and uses qualitative life history narratives with male offenders from The Stockholm Life Course Project to distinguish between two qualitatively different forms of intermittent offending. Findings suggest that one form of intermittency can be characterized by “breaks” and “pauses” in offending, where the offender for a period of time “holds up” but without attempting to commit to any long-term change in trajectory. The second form can best be understood as incomplete or aborted attempts at desistance, where attempts to change are present but not realized. Perceived or experienced failure to enter conventional roles and engage in conventional practices is highly relevant to understand these attempts. The intermittent zigzag patterns of offending observed in quantitative studies of criminal careers can thus actually entail qualitatively different life course processes of continuity and change. Implications for policy and future research are highlighted.

Read this research for free

Article details

Christoffer Carlsson1 (2012). Processes of Intermittency in Criminal Careers: Notes From a Swedish Study on Life Courses and Crime International Journal of Offender Therapy Comparative Criminology : 10.1177/0306624X12443656

This entry was posted in Criminology & Criminal Justice, SAGE Insight and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.