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(particularly juveniles) specialise or not in a particular crime (eg, Farrington et al., 1988; Klein, 1984; West and Farrington, 1977). All comment on the great degree of offence versatility, though Farrington et al. (1988), using sophisti- cated statistical methods of analysis to study the juvenile court careers of 70,000 offenders aged 7 to 17 in the United States, found that vehicle Iheft was one of the three most specialist offences. In an early British study of borslal boys aged 16-20 between 1953 and 1955, Gibbens (1957) too, found over a third of car thieves had more than one conviction for the offence, and commenied thai 'such recidivism is probably very unusual'.

I n a r e c e n t r e v i e w o f r e s e a r c h , T a r l i n g ( 1 9 9 1 ) a l s o c o n c l u d e s d i a l i h c r e i s s o m e e v i d e n c e o f s p e c i a l i s a t i o n a m o n g c a r t h i e v e s , a l b e i i w e a k . 1 T h e p r c s c n l r e s e a r c h

differs, of course, in that thieves were asked to define themselves as specialist or not, and the sample size is much smaller than in other studies. Nonetheless, the present research is in line with other work in suggesting that siealing cars may be a more specialist activity than many other crimes.

Giving up car crime

Subjects were asked if they or any of their friends had given up car crime, for how long, and why; whether or not they thought car crime was becoming more popular; what sort of person was attracted to it; and why they thought people gave up car crime as they grew older. Those still offending were asked whether anything would realistically stop them from offending.

As noted in Chapter 2, 21 per cent of the sample could be seen as genuine desisters having given up for six months or more (half aged between 21 and 25). A further 39 per cent were potential desisters, having given up for a few weeks. Those that had not given up, and those that claimed to have given up recently, were more heavily concentrated in the younger age groups, with three-quarters aged 20 years or under.

Sixteen subjects, who had not given up themselves, said that they had friends who had given up, and five of those who had stopped had friends who had stopped also.

Reasons for desistence

Of those who had given up, over half gave reasons of increased maturity and responsibility, from simply growing out of it, settling down or getting a job (n = 19), to the influence of girlfriends/partners, or becoming a parent (n = 13).

1 Three British studies, for instance, have used 'transition matrices' to calculate the probability of an offender committing the same type of offence in a series of offending (Slander et al., 1989; Home Office Statistical Department, 1985; Phillpotts and Lancucki, 1979). The results depend heavily on the categories of crime deployed. 'Unauthorised theft of a motor vehicle' was treated separately in only one siudy (Home Office Statistical Department, 1985) and even then it was subsumed under 'Motoring Offences'.


Three subjects said that the distress caused at home by their car crime was enough to make Ihem stop:

My mum just started going wild, she would freak out on me—couldn't handle it any more so I just stopped.

My girlfriend would get distressed and call me childish, it's not worth upselling her.

Only 13 subjects said I hat the threat of prison had finally deterred them, with a furiher subject desisting after having served a custodial sentence. Five subjects said that having an accident made them desist, though four of these had only recently given up and all were aged 17 or under. Two said that attending a motor project had enabled them to give up. Table 3.2 summarises reasons for slopping.

Threat of prison Did time Remand in custody

13 1 1

Grew out of it Girlfriend Settled down New baby Got a job

10 10 7 3 2

Accident Motor project Other crime Other

5 2 1 3

= 58) n

Table 3.2 Reasons for giving up car crime (n


There was no difference in reasons given for desisting between those recently giving up and the longer-term desisters. Nor did the car crime 'specialists' have any distinctive reasons. When asked why they thought other car thieves might give it up when older (n = 84), the reasons given were similar to the maturity/ responsibility responses above, in particular: 'grow out of it' (36%), 'just settle down' (20%) and 'more to lose' (8%). One in ten said that people do not give up when older.

Finally, 34 of the 39 subjects who continued in car crime were asked if they felt there was anything that would realistically make them desist. Five mentioned the threat of prison, five said that having money would help, and five took the stance that nothing would deter them. However, the most singular feature was the diversity of answers from others (with a few—but only a few) mentioning being able to drive legally, attending a motor project and having a job. The lack


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