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    The data used in the paper were collected originally by the Rand Corporation and were made available by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. Neither the collector of the original data nor the consortium bears any responsibility for the analyses or interpretations presented here. We are grateful to Michael Benson and anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.

  • Neal Shover is Professor of Sociology at the University of Tennessee. His current research explores the social psychology of criminal careers, criminal decision making, and corporate crime.

  • Carol Y. Thompson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at East Carolina University. Her current research examines the relationship between community context and property crime victimization.


We specify an individual-level model linking crime desistance to estimates of legal risk, differential expectations, degree of past success at legitimate and criminal pursuits, and age. OLS and logistic regression procedures are used to estimate the model using longitudinal data on serious, previously imprisoned offenders. As predicted, age decreases estimates of the likely payoffs from crime and legitimate employment. Contrary to predictions, age is unrelated to the perceived legal risk of renewed criminal participation. Age, past success at avoiding confinement, expectations of success from crime, and level of education are significant predictors of crime desistance. Neither the perceived legal risk of crime nor expectations of success through straight pursuits significantly predict desistance. We suggest an interpretation for these anomalous findings.