Chronic Offender: Definition & Criminology

Chronic Offender: Definition & Criminology
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  • 0:01 What Is a Chronic Offender?
  • 0:57 Substance Abuse &…
  • 1:35 Poverty & Chronic Offending
  • 2:26 Common Chronic Offense Crimes
  • 3:31 Chronic Offender Theories
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melanie Norwood

Melanie has taught several criminal justice courses, holds an MS in Sociology concentrating in Criminal Justice & is completing her Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Justice.

In this lesson, we will define what a chronic offender is in the study of criminology. We will also provide a bit of insight into how individuals become classified as chronic offenders and offer a few theoretical explanations as to how individuals are situated in society as chronic offenders.

What Is a Chronic Offender?

If you have ever worked in a restaurant you probably had regular customers. You likely knew their names and what times to expect them, and maybe you even knew their orders so well you could start preparing them from the minute they entered the building. These were your repeat customers, and they often stuck to their routines and patterns.

Now, change the setting from a restaurant to your local jail, change your uniform to that of a police officer, and the regular customer to the citizen you're bringing in for yet another arrest and booking. Voila! That regular, in criminological terms, is a chronic offender. He has frequent interactions with law enforcement and has a lengthy history of arrests, commonly for the same or similar crimes. You may have heard that a small number of people are responsible for a large percentage of crime. This regular, or chronic offender, is part of that small percentage.

Substance Abuse and Chronic Offending

Not uncommonly, many chronic offenders have some sort of substance abuse problem. Lots of people have underlying mental or psychological issues that they attempt to treat with drugs or alcohol as an easy way to minimize the symptoms of their problem. These drugs will not solve the underlying condition, be that depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental or psychological issues. Rather, the drug use makes the symptoms less noticeable or more tolerable to the individual. Thus their possession of illegal narcotics, or their purchasing of illegal narcotics, will land them in police custody frequently.

Poverty and Chronic Offending

Some individuals resort to chronic crime as a means of making money quickly, or at all. They may lack the skills, education, or work experience to make money in a more legitimate fashion in a traditional work setting. They might also lack considerable knowledge about managing a budget to meet all of their financial needs. Thus prostitution, selling narcotics, or stealing goods before pawning them off for a profit (also known as fencing) are activities some individuals resort to in order to get by.

An individual may also repeatedly commit crimes because they pay better than a normal job. For example, some inmates who sold drugs in an urban area reported easily making two thousand to four thousand dollars per week on less than a high school education. Compare that to a minimum or low wage job that their skills and education would qualify them for and that would not offer near as much in economic benefits.

Common Chronic Offense Crimes

In general, chronic offenders are associated with committing drug crimes or property crimes. The root causes of these crimes are often either drug-related, economic-oriented, or both. Property crimes could include pick-pocketing, petty theft, or burglary and may be committed to secure money for basic needs or to support a drug habit. Drug crimes may also be committed for the same reasons. To a smaller extent, chronic offenders also commit public order crimes such as vagrancy, public intoxication, public indecency, and panhandling. Not surprisingly, these crimes also tie into substance abuse and economic issues.

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