Sociology Index


Maturational reform is the observation that involvement in crime tends to decrease as people age. Maturational reform is of course another word for change in behavior over time, and also for change in behavior with advancing age. A visit to any prison will confirm maturational reform as would the tracking of 10 year olds crime involvements as they go through adolescence and into adulthood. The maturational reform hypothesis is supported for general delinquency but not for serious delinquency, for which there appears to be a steady decline in the behavior with age. One of the first social scientists to address the question of maturational reform was Adolphe Quetelet.

Quetelet (1833) argues that the penchant for crime diminishes with age 'due to the enfeeblement of physical vitality and the passions.' Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck (1940) develop this into their theory of maturational reform, in which they argue that intrinsic criminality naturally declines after the age of 25.

The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment brings together Dr Winnicott’s published and unpublished papers on psychoanalysis and child development during the period 1957-1963.

The Gluecks suggest that with the 'sheer passage of time' juvenile delinquents 'grow out' of this transitory phase and 'burn out' physiologically. Significantly, they conclude, 'Ageing is the only factor which emerges as significant in the reformative process.' Although the Gluecks explicitly urge future researchers to 'dissect maturation into its components', Shover points out that criminology's 'explanatory efforts have not progressed appreciably beyond the Gluecks' work.' Maturational reform continues to be the most influential theory of desistance in criminology.

Delinquency Treatment and Intervention
Before examining specific programs, a comment about maturational reform is in order. Maturational reform is the notion that kids grow out of delinquency. Wolfgang et al.'s (1972, 1987) extensive studies with two cohorts of delinquents in Philadelphia indicated that incarceration was not the best predictor of desistance from delinquency. In effect, the best predictor was age. It was found that after three contacts with the police (i.e., arrests) over 90 percent of the youth desist from further delinquency.

Self-reported offending, maturational reform, and the Easterlin hypothesis
Scott Menard and Delbert S. Elliott.
Abstract The maturational reform hypothesis and the Easterlin cohort size hypothesis are used to specify models in which age, period, and cohort effects on self-reported crime and delinquency are estimated. Curvilinear effects, logarithmic transformations, and the distinction between prevalence and frequency of offending are considered.

Some Get Better, Some Don't: The Issue of Maturational Reform, Chapter Eight in Final Report of the Marion County Youth Study, National Institute of Mental Health, University of Oregon, Eugene. 1981.
The Adolescent Experience and Maturational Reform: Assessing the Empirical Implications of Two Delinquency Theories, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, Toronto, August. 1981.