The notion that offenders can be categorized in some fashion has been around for as long as criminal behavior has been studied. The potential for specialization continues to be a question of some importance in contemporary criminological theory and justice policy. The ongoing study of criminal careers has led to a great deal of further research in this area. Still, many scholars believe that offenders commit criminal acts based on desire for short-term pleasure and do not regularly engage in specific patterns of offenses. A variety of research methods and analytic approaches have been used to examine this research topic; some focus on offense patterns across groups of offenders, and others attempt to assess specialization and diversity of offending at the individual level. Empirical research tends to suggest that the majority of offenders generalize over the course of their active criminal careers. This raises some questions about theories, policies, and treatment modalities that assume offender types.
Some recent evidence, however, suggests that offenders may specialize during short time periods of their overall careers. Therefore, it is important that further research on specialization accommodate the fact that most offenders will commit a variety of different types of crime over their careers, but the specific nature of those activities may be tied to particular life events and situations. Emerging measurement strategies and analytic techniques offer some opportunity to better understand this property of criminal careers. Incorporating these approaches with greater emphasis on theoretical understanding has the potential to advance knowledge of the degree to which criminal specialization exists and its origins. This area of criminological study has some important implications for how offenders are sanctioned and treated by the justice system as well and should be pursued further to inform responses to crime.
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