Freiburg Cohort Study
The aim of this study is to investigate, via official data, the emergence and evolution of crime, judicial reactions towards crime, and criminal careers. The Freiburg Cohort Study is a long-term project, which, due to its specific cohort design and its extensive period of evaluation, is unique in Germany. The following issues are of central importance to the study: Which age-dependent courses and dependencies can be observed, based on officially registered crime? To what extent does the fact that one has been entered into official records at an earlier period of life – especially in childhood – determine conflict with the law at a later period? To what extent is the emergence and development of officially registered crime subordinate to a change in society? To what extent are judicial sanctions influenced by the type of crime committed and/or biographical factors, and to what extent are such sanctions dependent on social changes? To what extent does law enforcement intervention influence the development of delinquency?
Beside an analysis of the decision making processes and the consequences of institutional reactions following a criminal act, the above mentioned questions aim specifically at the dependency of delinquency from the standpoint of both individual development (ageing) and coincidental social change. Whereas questions concerning successive events in a life course could, in principle, be analyzed using conventional longitudinal data (e.g., the data of just one birth cohort), the design of this study – with data from six cohorts – also enables an estimation of the influence of changing times (period) to take place e.g., social changes. This is possible because distinct age periods, for example adolescence, coincide with different time periods for each cohort. So the influence of these different points in time can be estimated. Furthermore, it is possible to extract a fictional ideal age development that is not dependent on a specific period of time. So the effects of age and time (period) are able to be separated in this study. Consequently, these answers could give rise to questions concerning the alteration of delinquent behavior with age and social changes. Thus far, such questions could not be answered or, have only been answered poorly, by other studies:
- Which age and which frequency are typical for different types of delinquency?
- How do crime-rates change over time (period) for different types of delinquency?
- Is there a change in the types of crime conducted with age, e.g., a change in the seriousness of offences committed?
- When the crime-rates change over time, is this because there are more/less lifetime persistent offenders or do they offend more or less frequently. Or are these changes caused in the main part by the number of single or two time offenders?
These kinds of questions outline the main topics of the research program of the Freiburg Cohort Study. To carry the study out, data has been gathered annually since 1986 form every person register by the police of the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg. This data relates to the birth cohorts of 1970, 1973, 1975, 1978 and, since 1995, also the birth cohorts of 1985 and 1988. The police records consist of a fine graded offence category, information about co-offenders, victims, and other circumstances. Additionally, all judicial reactions concerning the people in the police data-set are gathered insofar as they are available in the Bundeszentralregister. In the case of adults this means all prosecution and court decisions with the exception of dismissed proceedings. The information about these judicial decisions includes the imposed sanction and a short description of the case. Both data sources could be linked together on the individual level. Meanwhile, a large database has emerged, which covers a large range over a growing time period.
The activities concerning the above mentioned questions (topics of research) can be assigned to several key aspects within the study:
- Support of Basic Crime Statistics: In the mean time, the data-set of the Freiburg Cohort Study contains substantial information in the field of official crime registration. Thus, it is possible to support other researchers with basic crime data (e.g., crime rates etc.) which are much more differentiated than official crime statistics and provide some information that is otherwise not available (e.g., cumulated rates). A compilation of this kind of data, containing statistics of police registration, was published in 2002.
Furthermore, in this study the kind of judicial reactions, including both formal and informal decisions, will be analyzed in relation to juvenile decisions for the period from 1985 to 1996. It is generally known that during this time period judicial practice clearly changed; however, up until now, this has not been analyzed in detail.
- Specific research activities: Under this heading fall the numerous dissertations, both completed and ongoing (which are listed below). Furthermore, the data collected in the present project has also been applied to other research activities. For example, see "Sexual Violence" or "Immigration and Crime" and "Homicide and General Delinquency".
Immigration and Crime
In Germany there exists a very special group of immigrants - the so called "Aussiedler". The Aussiedler are ethnic Germans, re-immigrating especially in the 1990th from Eastern Europe (in part from Poland and Romania but mainly from the former Soviet Union). They differ from other immigrants insofar as they immediately received all the privileges that every German citizen has, including the right to social support. In the last years crime rates among these Aussiedler seemed to increase significantly.
Homicide and General Delinquency
Homicide, even more than sexual violence, is a rare event affecting in most cases a known or even related victim. Therefore, homicide differs from general crime not only in frequency or seriousness but also concerning the victims, which are in the case of general crime predominantly anonymous or strangers. Here amongst other questions it was asked whether these differences show up in the age dependencies of the crime rates.
Doctoral thesis in the framework of the Freiburg Cohort Study
- Christian Bareinske: Sanktion und Legalbewährung im Jugendstrafverfahren in Baden-Württemberg.
An analysis of the reconviction of juvenile offenders after the formal or informal completion at proceedings, base on data of the Freiburg Cohort Study. (completed)
- Sven Höfer: Sanktionskarrieren (Development of Sanction Severity in Criminal Careers).
This thesis focuses on the development of sanction severity in criminal careers. (completed)
- Carina Tetal: Patterns of Offending Behaviour.
In this project, patterns of offences are determined by analysing the similarity of offences on the basis of individual data. The similarity of offences is empirically determined by the frequency of the common appearance of offences within the criminal careers of individuals. (completed)