Sorry, Les Mis: Criminals gonna Criminal

“3 in 4 former prisoners in 30 states arrested within 5 years of release” (from the Bureau of Justice Statistics press release, April 22, 2014.)Inspired by my recent musings, I thought I would refresh my memory on recidivism stats–I have a vague memory that murderers tend not to recidivate, (murderers tend to stay in prison for a very long time) and that car jackers do, but it’s a bad idea to make claims based on vague memories of old data.

So here’s what the press release has to say:

“An estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years…

More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year.”

We could probably save some time and effort if we could effectively identify those third before releasing them. HOWEVER, I don’t know what percent of these people are being re-arrested on parole violations that the rest of us might not really consider “crimes”, like missing a meeting with one’s parole officer or forgetting to register one’s address.

“Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.”

I’m guessing violent offenders spent longer in prison, and thus were older when released.

“Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.

Five years after release from prison, black offenders had the highest recidivism rate (81 percent), compared to Hispanic (75 percent) and white (73 percent) offenders.”

So, while while the chances of being a criminal vary widely between groups, criminals from all the groups recidivate at fairly similar rates. This suggests that we are probably actually arresting the subset of people who are criminals most of the time.

“Within five years of release, 61 percent of released inmates with four or fewer arrests in their prior criminal history were arrested, compared to 86 percent of those who had 10 or more prior arrests.”

Maybe guys with 10 prior arrests shouldn’t be released until they’re well over 40?

Some finer grain on recidivism by specific crime, after five years (note: this does not tell us the new offense,) from the PDF:

Violent: 71.3%
Homicide: 51.2
Murder: 47.9
Nonnegligent manslaughter: 55.7
Negligent manslaughter: 53.0
Rape/sexual assault: 60.1
Robbery: 77.0
Assault: 77.1
Other: 70.4
Property: 82.1%
Burglary: 81.8
Carjacking: 84.1
Fraud/forgery: 77.0
Drug: 76.9%
Possession: 78.3
Trafficking: 75.4
Public order: 73.6%
Weapons: 79.5
Driving under the influence: 59.9

Looks like my vague memories were correct. Murderers are the least likely to recidivate, probably due to the personal nature of many murders (you’ve got to really hate that guy,) and murderers being older when released, but they are still folks who aren’t great at solving inter-personal problems or running their lives. Rapist probably figure out non-illegal ways to have sex, or else get old enough to be less interested in it. Drunks probably learn to call a cab when drunk.

Relatively speaking, of course. A 50 or 60% recidivism rate still isn’t something that inspires great confidence. To be clear, again, this is not data on how many released murderers commit another murder or how many released rapists commit another rape–this is arrest for any crime. A further breakdown of re-arrest by new crime vs. old crime would be interesting.Carjacking, by contrast, looks like the Xtreme sports of crime–people attracted to this form of violent thrill-seeking seem unlikely to change their spots or find more legal alternatives.

On a related note, The role of parenting in the prediction of criminal involvement: findings from a nationally representative sample of youth and a sample of adopted youth.

From the abstract: The role of parenting in the development of criminal behavior has been the source of a vast amount of research, with the majority of studies detecting statistically significant associations between dimensions of parenting and measures of criminal involvement. An emerging group of scholars, however, has drawn attention to the methodological limitations-mainly genetic confounding-of the parental socialization literature. The current study addressed this limitation by analyzing a sample of adoptees to assess the association between 8 parenting measures and 4 criminal justice outcome measures. The results revealed very little evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal behavior before controlling for genetic confounding and no evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal involvement after controlling for genetic confounding.

In other words, looks like my basic thesis is holding up. Overall, I suspect it is far easier to fuck up a kid so they don’t meet their full potential (say, by abusing/neglecting) than to get rid of the effects of negative traits. It’s probably best to try to work with people’s inclinations by finding them life-paths that work for them, rather than trying to mold them into something they aren’t.

9 thoughts on “Sorry, Les Mis: Criminals gonna Criminal

  1. What % of illiterate and unskilled males do not become criminals? What % of the cognitive elite expect this underclass to smile and happily flip burgers while the economic and political institutions grind their souls into dust?


    • Well, according to the internet, 15% of Americans aren’t functionally literate, and the incarceration rate, per Wikipedia, is 0.7%.
      Blacks are incarcerated at around 4.7%; “study finds 47% of Detroiters functionally illiterate”

      So rough estimate, between 5% and 10% of the illiterate population is in prison. Lower % for Hispanics.

      As for your second question, my impression of the “cognitive elite” is that they are *highly* concerned about job prospects and general happiness for illiterates, especially blacks and Hispanics. What they aren’t concerned about are poor but intelligent whites.

      Blacks and Hispanics have very low suicide rates (much lower than whites.) They have high levels of self-esteem, and Latin American countries have very high levels of happiness. Japan, by contrast, has very high levels of suicide and depression. I suspect there are strong genetic factors at play in happiness.

      That said, my impression of fast food work, from talking to former fast food employees, is that it makes its employees suicidal. I suspect this effect is compounded for people are naturally prone to depression–like intelligent whites cut out of the system. But no one cares about them.


      • And what should we *do* about Detroit’s literacy rate? Found free schools for Detroit’s children and then legally compel them all to attend for a certain number of years in order to assure that they can all learn to read? Maybe subsidize food and medical care for poor women and their children? Subsidized housing? We already do all of these things.

        I attended a ghetto school, back in my youth. It was the best funded school in the district. Innovative. Great teachers. More technology than they knew what to do with. The kids in my class who couldn’t read (and there were several,) weren’t illiterate due to lack of school or other people trying.

        If you have any ideas, I’m quite happy to hear them.


  2. Do you want ideas for the current Detroit that has a population that is 1/2 literate or do you want ideas to prevent future cities with 50% illiteracy?

    There are people who do not have the ability to read all that well. What should we do about them? Some have the ability but the array of circumstances does not produce literate people.

    Tracking would be my first choice.


      • You made it through the ghetto school intact and we both know the main reason why.
        A significant % of black males do not make it through. One of the main reasons is the flipside of why you made it through. Very little is being done to prevent this group from re-producing itself.
        If I construct a maze for lab mice and I increase the number of false alleyways should I express surprise that the mice have less success navigating the increasing complex maze?


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