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The crimes of first-time offenders: same or different from the crimes of habitual criminals?

Glenn D. Walters (Department of Criminal Justice, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 16 December 2019

Issue publication date: 4 February 2020




The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how first-time offenders and habitual criminals, while displaying wide differences in offense frequency, appear to follow a similar pattern in committing crime.


A conceptual approach is adopted in this paper.


It is argued that criminal thinking is the common denominator in both patterns, the difference being that habitual criminals have a higher resting level of proactive and reactive criminal thinking than first-time offenders. With an earlier age of onset, the habitual criminal may be more impulsive and reactive than first-time offenders, which partially explains why most low-rate offenders are not identified until adulthood.

Practical implications

Because actual and perceived deterrents to crime correlate weakly, if at all, it is recommended that perceived environmental events and criminal thinking be the primary targets of prevention and intervention programs.

Social implications

Environmental stimuli, such as events that produce general strain, increase opportunities for crime, reinforce criminal associations, irritate the individual and interfere with the deterrent effect of perceived certainty, can both augment and interact with criminal thinking to increase the likelihood of a criminal act in both first-time offenders and habitual criminals.


The unique aspect of this paper is that it illustrates that certain features of crime and criminality are found across offending levels, whereas other features are more specific to a particular level.



Walters, G.D. (2020), "The crimes of first-time offenders: same or different from the crimes of habitual criminals?", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 1-15.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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