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. 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.


Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., and Farrington, D. (1988). Criminal career
research: it's value for criminology. Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., and Farrington,

D. (1988). Longitudinal and criminal career research: further clarifications.

Criminology, vol. 26, no. 1. Elliot, D. S. (1994). Serious violent offenders:
onset, developmental course, and termination--The American Society of

Criminology 1993 Presidential Address. Criminology, vol. 32, no. 1. Gottfredson,

M., and Hirschi, T. (1988). Science, public policy, and the career paradigm.

Criminology, vol. 26, no. 1. Sutherland, E. H. (1994). The professional thief.
classics of criminology. IL: Waveland Press. Welsh, A. E. (1991). Issues in the
measurement of criminal careers. Criminal Justice 400 packet, fall semester,

1995 Iowa State University.