In a UT Dallas study involving serious youth offenders, the answer to one open-ended question predicted the teenagers' offending patterns for the next seven years: "How long do you think you'll live?"
According to the study, having little hope for the future encourages offending over time.
Author Dr. Alex Piquero said the study found those who don't view a very long life ahead of them offend at very high rates and commit more serious offenses, while those who believe they're going to die much later in life offend much less.
"In a lot of distressed communities and for a lot of offenders, they don't see a future," said Piquero, Ashbel Smith Professor of criminology at UT Dallas. "They think, 'Why do I have to go to school? I'm not going to make it past 21.' And in many of our interviews with these kids, they basically said, 'I'm not going to make it until next week, so why would I even care?'"
The youths' perceptions about how long they would live also impacted how they interpreted the consequences of offending, according to the study.
Teens who anticipated early death were more likely to focus on "the here and the now," Piquero said. They're impulsive; they don't think about the risks of their behavior.
The paper, published online in Justice Quarterly on March 27, used data from a seven-year study of serious youth offenders to examine what has been a relatively uncharted area of empirical research.
Piquero's research began by asking the offenders approximately 16 years old their thoughts on when they would die. Their answers ranged from late teens to more than 100 years old, Piquero said.
Researchers followed up with the sample of serious adolescent offenders seven years later, and they self-reported their offending. Those who said they would live longer were more likely to have controlled their impulses.
Piquero said when people in the overall population envision themselves living long lives, they do things that will
|Contact: Brittany Hoover|
University of Texas at Dallas