Self-control and Criminal Opportunity

A Prospective Test of the General Theory of Crime

Published in: Social Problems, v. 45, no. 1, Feb. 1998, p. 102-113

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1997

by Douglas L. Longshore

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The general theory of crime (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990) proposes that self-control is the primary individual-level cause of crime and that its effect is contingent on criminal opportunity. This study conducted a prospective test of self-control and opportunity as predictors of property crime and personal crime among drug-using offenders. Each predictor had a main effect; property crimes and personal crimes were more frequent among offenders lower on self-control and those with higher opportunity. A significant interaction between these predictors was also detected. About four percent of the variance in each type of crime was explained by these predictors. Results support the proposition that self-control is a causal factor in criminal behavior and suggest that its effect is partially contingent on opportunity, but self-control and opportunity, as measured here, had very modest explanatory power.

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