Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Kathleen Heide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bryanna Fox, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard Moule, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wesley Jennings, Ph.D.


desistance from crime, juvenile murderers, long-term follow-up study, mixed-method study, post-release recidivism


Murder by offenders under the age of 18 is a cause for public concern, despite the overall decrease in the rate of juvenile-perpetrated homicide since 1994. Due to several rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court (i.e., Miller v. Alabama, 2012), the likelihood that convicted juvenile homicide offenders (JHOs) will be released from prison has increased. Accordingly, it is important to examine these offenders’ long-term readjustment to society after their release. Using a mixed-method approach, the present study was designed to explore the factors that influence whether JHOs reoffend and their reoffending patterns, over a period of approximately 35 years. Another purpose of the study was to examine the applicability of Sampson and Laub’s age-graded theory of informal social control to JHOs. The sample consisted of 22 men who committed a murder or attempted murder when they were juveniles in the early 1980s, were convicted as adults, and sentenced to serve time in an adult prison. Bivariate, quantitative analyses were used to assess the relationships between demographic, pre-incarceration, incarceration-related, and post-release factors and two variables measuring the frequency of recidivism: the number of arrests and the number of violent offenses. Qualitative analyses were employed to examine the divergent themes in the lives of JHOs who desisted after their release from prison for the homicide conviction and those who continued engaging in antisocial and/or criminal behavior and were reincarcerated. The qualitative component of the study also contained a preliminary analysis of the trajectories of offending among the JHOs who did not desist (i.e., the “persistent offenders”). Correlation, chi-square, and t-test analyses indicated that the frequencies of general and violent recidivism were significantly related most consistently to being Black and three post-release variables: return to old neighborhood, association with pre-incarceration friends, and pursuit of educational opportunities. In the qualitative analyses, the following themes were found to differentiate between 8 desisters and 11 persistent offenders in the sample: return to old neighborhood, association with pre-incarceration friends or other criminal peers, substance abuse, fatalism, issues with anger, stable employment, a positive intimate relationship, generativity, human agency, and participation in a prison reentry program. Moreover, the persistent offenders exhibited four distinct trajectories of criminal behavior. The findings in this study provided partial support for Sampson and Laub’s theory, as well as other developmental and life-course theories. With respect to criminal justice policy, the findings suggest that formerly incarcerated homicide offenders would benefit from settling in a different neighborhood, learning employment-related skills, and exposure to cognitive behavioral therapy. Although this study is the longest and largest follow-up study conducted on juveniles convicted of murder, the small sample may affect the generalizability of the study’s findings. In addition, participants consisted of male JHOs from a single state. Future research focusing on both female juvenile murderers from multiple states is needed.