2009 November 15 Sunday
Most Criminals Return To Crime After Prison

A USC press release about crime starts with a depressing figure: Most criminals are not turned away from a life of crime by time in the pokie.

Nearly 650,000 people are released from the nationís prisons every year, and about nine million more are released from jails. Two-thirds of those who come out of prison are rearrested within three years of release.

What portion of the remaining third also commits more crimes but doesn't get caught for the first 3 years?

I picture the creation of a parallel society on, say, remote islands where criminals get released. The more dangerous get released together in some islands. Other islands get progressively less dangerous people. Why put ourselves at risk to these people?

Here's the kicker: If criminals remain as criminals then the system has failed them.

Federal, state, community and faith-based leaders say these statistics indicate the individuals are not getting the services they need to ensure a successful transition back into their communities.

Services! I say put them on an island with jobs doing light manufacturing. Choose a few industries to protect from foreign competition and let those industries set up factories on, say, the Aleutian islands. Instead of making prisons on the island make safe areas where managers live behind protective walls. The managers could interact with the workers in adjacent factories with guards present.

See any red flags?

Eighty percent of federal prisoners report a history of drug or alcohol abuse, two-thirds of offenders do not have a high school diploma or equivalency degree, up to 16 percent have at least one serious mental disorder and 10 percent of those entering jail are homeless in the months before incarceration.

Some people belong in mental institutions. Letting mentally ill people live on the street is a bad idea.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 November 15 09:36 PM  Crime Demographics

James Bowery said at November 15, 2009 11:03 PM:

Its pretty obvious to me that this tendency to set policy globally (imprisoning those who object) as opposed to letting people vote with their feet to set up their own experiments in human ecology, will inevitably lead to war -- and that's if we're lucky. If we're unlucky, we'll lose the capacity to use words to communicate. Force, mediated by negotiations, will be replaced by purely "peaceful", unadulterated, unintentional, deception and manipulation as the most evolutionarily viable strategy.

Black Death said at November 16, 2009 5:30 AM:

Anyone remember the 1981 movie "Escape From New York," starring Kurt Russell, Adrian Barbeau, Isaac Hayes, Donald Plesance and Lee Van Cleef? It's one of my favorites:

Escape from New York is a 1981 science fiction/action film directed and scored by John Carpenter. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Castle. The film is set in the near future in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier and legendary fugitive "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States, who has been captured by inmates after Air Force One crashed on the island.

The part I like is building a wall around Manhattan and dumping all the criminals there. But the Aleutians would work too.

Bob Badour said at November 16, 2009 6:34 AM:


Two books you really must read: 1) Thomas Szasz's The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct and 2) Stanton Samenow's Inside the Criminal Mind.

I have a couple objections to your suggestion regarding mental institutions. First, mental institutions are far more punitive and far less humane than jails. Second, the concept of mental illness is flawed at its core.

Perhaps being autistic and corresponding with many other autistics I have a different perspective on the issue of mental illness. While I have been very fortunate having suffered only minimal misdiagnosis, many autistics have been misdiagnosed with all manner of so-called mental illnesses that you would have them jailed for and in far too many cases were actually institutionalized for. As a result, far too many suffer iatrogenic psychological injury.

I think it makes far more sense to change the way the judiciary handles the issue of competence than to forcibly impose your values on someone who doesn't share them.

That said, the result reported in your article is no surprise. The high self-esteem and sense of entitlement characteristic of a criminal mind do not go away in jail. Old criminals are just as criminal as young criminals, but aging takes away the physical stamina and dexterity required for violence. That knowledge has been readily available for anyone interested for 3 or 4 decades now.

Michael L said at November 16, 2009 9:43 AM:

a major problem in today's America is precisely the lack of those "light manufacturing" jobs, or other types of jobs that such people could do to at least steadily rent a place in a dorm. So you are proposing to create them and make commission of a crime prerequisite to getting them? Well, I guess it's better than nothing...

I think that an overall better approach would be to cut down costs (such as by abolishing the prison guards unions) and using the highly regimented conditions of life in prison to get the prisoners learn useful vocational skills. It may well be that they already have vocational programs there, so maybe make them cheaper, expand them and strongly pressure inmates into participating. It doesn't matter if they have light mental illness, a death wish or zero internal motivation - external motivation will do. Ancient Egyptians have famously observed that "ears of the boy are on his back" or something like that because basically the only way they could teach their complex writing system was through regular beatings. It's not fun while you are a victim of it, but it's nice to get trained enough to get a job at the end. Overall, the left part of the Bell Curve needs structure and discipline to "be all you can be". And in fact, the prison inmates need that structure and discipline even more than the people who score high enough on the ASVAB to become soldiers.

mrm said at November 16, 2009 10:43 AM:

Transportation, as the British called it, is an outstanding way to isolate violent or career criminals from the population. The USA just needs a good sized land mass. Is the offer for Greenland for $100 mil still open? Escape from NY was a great action flick, but "No Escape" is the better model.

Randall Parker said at November 16, 2009 5:41 PM:

Bob, Who told you to read Samenow's book? What lesson would you have me take from it?

Szasz: People with schizophrenia are mentally ill. There are other real mental illnesses. Misdiagnoses of autistics doesn't change that.

Michael L,

The US military doesn't want criminals and can't effectively use them. If we were having large scale wars with major meat grinder battles with few civilians around I could see how to use criminals in the military. But the "hearts and minds" wars of the colonial forces we deploy can't use criminals and in peace time they just cause trouble.

Cutting down costs and more training: Good luck with that. Doubt it would help even if it could be done.

rob said at November 17, 2009 5:36 AM:

Bob, Would you feel more comfortable if we called schizophrenia a late-onset neurodevelopmental disorder? We see differences between the brains of schizophrenics and 'neurotypicals'.

How can you claim to be autistic and claim that mental illnesses don't exist? Are you just pretending to be autistic? Languages don't exist, I speak English! Races don't exist, but I'm white! Nothing can fly, but I'm a helicopter! Half #or more# of each of those statements has to be false.

"[A]pproach broadly known as the anti-medical movement, most active in the 1960s, opposes the orthodox medical view of flu as an illness.[72] Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz argued that flu patients are not ill, but rather individuals with unconventional thoughts and behavior that make society uncomfortable.[73] He argues that society unjustly seeks to control them by classifying their behavior as an illness and forcibly treating them as a method of social control. According to this view, "flu" does not actually exist but is merely a form of social construction, created by society's concept of what constitutes normality and abnormality. Szasz has never considered himself to be "anti-medicine" in the sense of being against medical treatment, but simply believes that treatment should be conducted between consenting adults, rather than imposed upon anyone against his or her will."

Substituting flu, it kind of seems true. What's sneezing but a behavior. People with the flu think they're ill, they feel like they want to stay in bed all day: those aren't normal thoughts.

Everything's a social construct. Does the social construct map well onto reality?

Michael L said at November 17, 2009 9:13 AM:


where in my comment did you see the suggestion to induct criminals into the military? I said that they need SIMILAR conditions, conditions of structure/discipline, as part of vocational training while incarcerated. We certainly have no shortage of normal people willing to enlist.

Wolf-Dog said at November 17, 2009 4:58 PM:

Today CNN reported that 1 out of 6 Americans are having a difficult time finding enough food to survive. Moreover, it is clear that the cause of this hunger is the lack of jobs. The average citizen is unable to create jobs, they can only fill the jobs that are available. Only the most able top 10 % (in terms of aptitudes) are able to create new jobs for others. Thus it is not surprising that criminals who get out of jail are unable to find jobs, unless, of course, the unemployment rate becomes low like in 1999.

The only thing the US can do is to restrict the immigration of people who do not have high aptitudes, and to actually subsidize the smart people to have more kids, and to pay tax credit as an incentive not to have children for those people who do not have the economic means to support children. This is because as technology becomes more advanced, productivity is increasing and the corporations need less workers.

Randall Parker said at November 17, 2009 6:09 PM:

Michael L,

Some people in prisons are so dangerous that the regimentation they need involves multiple guards moving them while handcuffed. Structure and discipline? They rebel against it - violently.


I think people who hear voices that aren't there aren't suffering from a social construct. They are suffering from messed up neurons.

Bob Badour said at November 17, 2009 9:29 PM:
We see differences between the brains of schizophrenics and 'neurotypicals'.

We see differences between the brains of males and 'females'. We see differences between the brains of Europeans and 'Africans'. Jokes about testosterone poisoning aside, we don't consider having a Y chromosome an illness, and we don't consider men sick. Neither do we consider melanin deficiency an illness.

How can you claim to be autistic and claim that mental illnesses don't exist?

I am a perfectly normal, healthy autistic. I suffer no illness of any kind.

Rob, you appear completely ignorant of what Szasz actually had to say. Flu is an illness. A physical pathogen alters the organism in ways detrimental to that organism. Substituting a word to make an absurdity only shows that the substitution is absurd not that the original sentence was absurd.

Bob Badour said at November 17, 2009 9:34 PM:


I bet you can have an internal dialog. That would mean you can hear a voice or voices in your mind that aren't there too. Does that make you ill?

Engineer-Poet said at November 18, 2009 8:16 AM:

Bob, Down's syndrome is an illness without a physical pathogen.  A genetic abnormality manifests in physical and neural pathologies.  Spina bifida is an illness without a physical pathogen.

Autism is pathological at the extreme, when it causes dysfunction.  (I don't see you arguing that mental retardation and inability to learn language are "normal".)  Schizophrenia is dysfunction, whether the underlying cause is physical stress, infection or it is ideopathic.

Bob Badour said at November 18, 2009 4:57 PM:


I disagree that trisomy 21 is itself an illness; although, it certainly conveys increased susceptibility to heart disease and other illnesses. I would agree trisomy 21 is a spontaneous mutation with respect to reproductive fitness and longevity; however, we all carry mutations maladaptive with respect to reproductive fitness and/or longevity. Does that make everyone ill?

Spina bifida is an injury most often caused by maternal malnutrition (folic acid deficiency) or toxicity (some drugs) circa conception. If one considers injuries illnesses, then it is an illness. I would find that strange, myself. I would always refer to an injury as an injury not an illness, but if someone considers broken limbs illnesses then I would accept their definition.

With respect to autism and pathology, you are confusing yourself with the multiple definitions of pathology. In the sense that autism deviates from a normal or efficient condition, it is pathological. In the sense of disease, autism is not pathological.

Red hair is pathological in the sense it deviates from a normal condition, and tallness is pathological in the sense it deviates from an efficient condition. (Shorter people live longer on average.) Does that make Brian Scalabrine ill? I think not.

Autism is entirely social diagnosed behaviourally as it is when differences at at least 17 different genetic loci have been individually associated with autism, it is sometimes caused by physical trauma, and other conditions are often mistaken for autism.

Bob Badour said at November 18, 2009 7:34 PM:

I apologize: That last sentence is difficult to read without punctuation:

Autism is entirely social--diagnosed behaviorally, as it is--when differences at at least 17 different genetic loci have been individually associated with autism, when it is sometimes caused by physical trauma, and when other conditions are often mistaken for autism.

SF said at November 19, 2009 11:08 AM:

OK Randall, so we appoint you dictator of California. You've got to cut another 10 billion from the budget, reduce prison populations by 20%, and maintain public safety. Any ideas.

Randall Parker said at November 20, 2009 12:47 PM:


Pathogens are not the only agents of illness. Toxins cause illnesses. Some genetic mutations cause metabolic pathways to not work correctly which cause more chemicals to be toxins. So genetic mutations cause toxins that cause illnesses.

When the liver develops cirrhosis many cells become scar tissue rather than regular liver cells. So there's a shortage of regular liver cells. Is cirrhosis a disease, disorder, or what? If the brain lacks cells how is that different?


Dictator of California trying to cut criminal costs:

1) Put more criminals to work while in prison and for longer hours. Time to bring some jobs back from China such as shoe making and furniture making.

2) Feed muscular criminals less so they can't be extremely dangerous to guards and other prisoners. Saves money too.

3) Privatize. But of course I'm dictator in this scenario.

4) Identify all illegal alien prisoners and deport them at the end of their sentence.

5) Authorize and require all state and local law enforcement personnel to identify, arrest, and deport all illegal aliens they come across. I would need to be dictator of America to make the INS take all those illegals into custody for deportation. Or to allow the state to directly deport on its own.

6) Genetically test all kids starting at age 13 and then when babies are born genetically test them all for paternity. Make Dad pay for illegitimate kids rather than the general population.

7) Sterilize repeat criminals. Fewer bad apples in future generations.

8) Once criminals get out of jail put an extra income tax on them to pay back their cost of incarceration.

9) Make criminals ineligible for food stamps and other aid.

10) Require criminals released from prison to work. If they can't find jobs then require that they work for the state doing the sort of work that people do in prisons.

Bob Badour said at November 20, 2009 1:26 PM:
Pathogens are not the only agents of illness. Toxins cause illnesses. Some genetic mutations cause metabolic pathways to not work correctly which cause more chemicals to be toxins. So genetic mutations cause toxins that cause illnesses.

And autism is none of those things.

When the liver develops cirrhosis many cells become scar tissue rather than regular liver cells. So there's a shortage of regular liver cells. Is cirrhosis a disease, disorder, or what?

Obviously, cirrhosis is an injury. Autism is not. Autism is a cluster of behaviors. It is defined socially neither mentally nor physically.

If the brain lacks cells how is that different?

I expect if one compares any two brains, one brain will have more cells in some parts and fewer cells in other parts. Given that simple observation, which of the 2 brains lacks cells? The brain that can perform on g-loaded tests 2 or 3 standard deviations above the norm or the other brain? The musical virtuoso's brain or the bus driver's brain? The melon-picker's brain or the floor-sweeper's brain?

Randall Parker said at November 20, 2009 2:18 PM:


Dictionaries give many definitions of the terms disease, disorder, illness, and sickness. One can pick a definition that fits one's values. One can pick a definition based on other considerations. Rather than pick a definition I will provide a number of considerations:

1) Microorganisms are sometimes considerd infections and therefore as diseases. However, we have symbiots living in us. When is a microorganism an infection? When it is damaging us. But what if a virus is quiescent and integrated into cells in, say, our nervous system? An infection? It could wake up and do damage.

2) Mutations can kill before or shortly after birth or at many other points along the way. But we do not use the term genetic disease or genetic disorder if a woman has, say, a BRCA1 mutation that increases her odds of getting breast cancer. There are mutations that make a near certainty of getting some cancer or degeneration of the brain later in life. A genetic disease?

3) Some mutations set us up to be far more vulnerable to environmental stressors.

4) Some small fraction of harmful mutations were actually selected for. Beta thalassemia comes to mind. A genetic disease? A genetic disorder? It certainly causes problems.

5) Many differences in brain function were selected for. Lots of genetic variants that place people on the autistic spectrum were probably selected for. However, I'm reminded of sickle cell anemia: Like beta thalassemia it was selected for to protect against malaria. But if an African gets two copies he's screwed in a big way. Well, a lot of the genetic variants that cause autism probably cause the most severe versions when many alleles line up in the same person. My guess is that high frequencies of these alleles were selected against in part because of the debilitations they caused when occurring all together.

Bob Badour said at November 20, 2009 3:37 PM:

Every gene was a mutation at some point.

None of what you wrote addresses autism or whether autism is an illness. At best, point 5) discusses a minority of a minority of autistics. Some minority of autistics are mentally retarded. Some minority of white people are mentally retarded, too. We don't consider being white an illness.

It's true that a larger minority of autistics are mentally retarded than the minority of white people who are. But autistics are over-represented among all manner of outliers: A larger minority of autistics are geniuses than the minority of white people who are too.

Autism is no more an illness than red hair.

rob said at November 21, 2009 11:20 AM:

Maybe no one addressed whether autism was an illness because you claimed that schizophrenia wasn't an illness because sometimes autistic people get misdiagnosed as schizophrenic.

If by autism you mean the people who head-bang, eat rock and paint, can't communicate, yeah it is an illness. Well it is an illness the same way that Downs or any other form of retardation is. If by autism, you mean nerdiness, introversion and/or shyness, being more capable of working with things and systems than people, being clumsy, that is probably not a disease. When one term includes both groups, having different words for the two categories is a good idea.

One big difference between your kind of autists and schizophrenics: nerdy kids grow up wanting nerdy lifestyles. No one wants to be schizophrenic when he or she grows up. Schizophrenics go off medication mostly because side effects are unpleasant. They also quit because they feel cured. They don't quit because they prefer psychosis. Even being on the schizophrenia spectrum is awful, trust me on that. (Though if I were less intelligent, I'd probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic or schizoaffective)

None of this means that society shouldn't try to match "all kinds of minds" with appropriate occupations. To some extent, both autism and schizophrenia are side effects of adaptations. People with schizotypal personality disorder are more creative, or at least score higher on tests purported to measure creativity. Aspergery people are good with computers and such.

Bob Badour said at November 21, 2009 12:21 PM:


Your 1st sentence runs on; nobody said anything about anyone diagnosing autism as schizophrenia. Earlier on in the thread, I made a statement about schizophrenia, and I stand by it. Later in the thread, E-P changed the subject to trisomy 21 and autism. Randall responded to my replies about autism after E-P changed the subject.

As a child, I rocked and banged my head; I am still smarter than most of humanity. I wasn't ill then, and I am not ill now. The problem with your suggestion is: The 2 groups are not 2 groups. You will find plenty of adult autistics who wear diapers and helmets, who are essentially non-verbal, and who are very intelligent and articulate in writing. You will also find adult autistics who are self-sufficient, highly verbal and intelligent who were non-verbal into their tweens or teens. If I recall correctly, Jim Sinclair was non-verbal until 12.

No one wants to be schizophrenic when he or she grows up.

Your statement is counter-factual. Many people, who know 1st hand what it means to be schizophrenic, choose to become schizophrenic again by discontinuing drug use. Some of them pose no risk to anybody when they do so. Some of them do pose a risk, which is why I think the courts need to reconsider the issues of competence and culpability, and I alluded to that on the 16th. We had a situation--and perhaps still have a situation--where people who committed no crime can be locked up without trial and subjected to abuse and torture, while other individuals who have committed violent crime face no particular consequence for their misdeeds. All because some people like to pretend schizophrenia is an illness when it is not.

Randall Parker said at November 21, 2009 5:18 PM:


Go back and read this thread again. The big disagreement started over schizophrenia. My November 20, 2009 2:18 PM post was not a response to your November 20, 2009 1:26 PM post. I didn't see your post before making my list of points. I was thinking more about schizophrenia. You are treating comments I am making in response to your November 16, 2009 6:05 PM post as comments about autism I think.

Schizophrenia and internal dialogs: I can control my internal dialogs and I know I'm not hearing outside forces talking to me.

Every gene was a mutation at some point: You can model viruses as mutations. They integrate into our genomes. We have ancient retroviruses in our genomes that integrated millions of years ago.

One needs to observe something more about a mutation other than the fact that it is a mutation in order to think usefully about the health and disease significance of each mutation.

I suspect schizophrenia is rather like mutations that have different effects when present in 1 or 2 copies. Get enough of the mutations that contribute to it and suddenly any benefits are outweighed by costs.

Or possibly schizophrenia is the result of genetic variants that generate phenotypes in the present conditions that are different and more harmful under present conditions. John Nash was of course extremely creative with mathematics and yet became a paranoid schizophrenic who survived with the help of his ex-wife. Nash's own speculations on the adaptive value of genetic variants that contribute to schizophrenia are not far off from my own. But he speaks of his problem as an illness.

rob said at November 23, 2009 8:25 PM:

Oh Noes! A runon sentence. You are autistic.

You said, "many autistics have been misdiagnosed with all manner of so-called mental illnesses..." Then you said, "I disagree that people with schizophrenia are ill." I took that to mean that you thought people with schizophrenia were not ill. What do you think you meant?

E-P did not change the subject, he made an analogy.

Bob Badour said at November 23, 2009 8:37 PM:

2 separate sentences for 2 separate thoughts in 2 separate posts posted 11 and a half hours apart. While all manner includes schizophrenia, I suppose, that doesn't exactly establish a causal chain as suggested by your run-on sentence.

I meant literally and exactly what I wrote. As an autistic, I tend very much not to write between the lines.

And by making a flawed analogy, E-P changed the subject. ::shrug::

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©