A basic premise of drug courts and similar initiatives is that well-designed interventions administered through the criminal-justice system can help addicts and others with self-control problems to gain better control over their behavior. This premise, however, flies in the face of an influential line of criminological thinking, which posits that an individual’s relative capacity for self-control is more-or-less fixed by age ten. Although self-control may improve in absolute terms as an individual ages, a person with poor self-control relative to his peers at age ten will likely remain behind his peers indefinitely, and hence present relatively greater risks of criminality through adulthood. On this view, interventions that occur only after crimes are committed in the teen and adult years are not likely to have much effect.
However, a competing line of criminological work holds out more promise for the improvement of relative self-control. A certain amount of empirical research could be cited in support of each position, although nothing of a conclusive nature.
Chongmin Na and Raymond Paternoster add to the empirical research in a new article, “Can Self-Control Change Substantially Over Time? Rethinking the Relationship Between Self- and Social Control,” 50 Criminology 427 (2012). Na and Paternoster provide support for the more optimistic view that self-control can change and interventions can help.