2015 February 14 Saturday
On The Rising Chorus To Imprison Fewer Criminals

In the never ending battle to stop oppression the next group up for consideration? Criminals. If you want to argue against this (probably unstoppable) movement it will probably not help any to have facts on your side. But you still might want the facts anyway. So here are some for your consideration: Recidivism Of Prisoners Released In 30 States In 2005: Patterns From 2005 To 2010


Among state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 

  • About two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years. 
  • Within 5 years of release, 82.1% of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 76.9% of drug offenders, 73.6% of public order offenders, and 71.3% of violent offenders.
  • More than a third (36.8%) of all prisoners who were arrested within 5 years of release were arrested within the first 6 months after release, with more than half (56.7%) arrested by the end of the first year.
  • Two in five (42.3%) released prisoners were either not arrested or arrested once in the 5 years after their release.
  • A sixth (16.1%) of released prisoners were responsible for almost half (48.4%) of the nearly 1.2 million arrests that occurred in the 5-year follow-up period.
  • An estimated 10.9% of released prisoners were arrested in a state other than the one that released them during the 5-year follow-up period
  • Within 5 years of release, 84.1% of inmates who were age 24 or younger at release were arrested, compared to 78.6% of inmates ages 25 to 39 and 69.2% of those age 40 or older.

Prisons are horrible places. Prison rape makes the horrible worse. Some people in prison are innocent. Others are in for minor crimes and aren't dangerous to us. But when you ponder the figures above consider that lots of people getting rearrested aren't getting arrested for the first crime that they committed once they got out. How many victims are there for each burglar, car robber, rapist, violent gangs, and arsonist before those criminals get arrested again? How many get out on bail and commit more crimes while waiting for trial?

My guess: the optimal solution for public safety is to let some inmates out of prison so the most dangerous can be held for even longer. Does the current state of research into criminology allow improved predictions on who is most likely to commit more crimes? Probably yes. See Adrian Raine's The Anatomy Of Violence for a survey of what is known about biological contributors to risk of violence and criminality. But we need a lot more research so we can more accurately identify the unredeemable.

Update: To get a sense of just how badly criminal gangs terrorize some portions of American society read this. How to get these people locked up?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2015 February 14 07:57 PM 

Audacious Epigone said at February 15, 2015 5:59 PM:

A lot of people probably assume that recidivism rates are highest among drug offenders. Great to have the empirical response to that potential assertion.

Stephen said at February 15, 2015 11:18 PM:

Does anyone know whether the hypothesis was validated that the removal of lead from petrol reduced violence by increasing the ability to control impulse?

Also, there was an hypothesis that smaller families (made possible due to availabilty of contraception and safe abortion) reduced resource contention inside families and thereby reduces crime outside families. Anyone know what became of that idea?

AMac said at February 16, 2015 6:03 AM:

Sailer also commented on Jill Leovy's book on black gang crime in LA, here. If your tastes run more to keepin' it real, I linked to Tavis Smiley in the comments. Smiley's concerns would be amusing, except that it is he and not Sailer whose opinions are considered mainstream.

See Comment #22 of that post for a link to two recent miss-the-point episodes of This American Life about the racist police etc etc.

albatross said at February 17, 2015 8:32 AM:

I wonder how technology will affect this. Already a lot of minor offenses get you house arrest with a monitoring bracelet, which should make it pretty hard to get away with future crimes. With modern technology, it should be possible to record every location and ambient sounds all the time from the monitoring bracelet, and connect it up once a week to your parole officer's computer. That won't keep you from smoking some crack, but it will make it a hell of a lot harder to get away with breaking into houses or mugging little old ladies. Instead of keeping people in prison for a long time, we can leave them on monitoring for a long time.

The opposition to this will come from two sides:

a. Civil rights/civil liberties types will decry the Orwellian bit of having people walking around being monitored all the time, and will correctly predict that this monitoring will be done to lots of young black men and few middle-aged white women.

b. Private prison companies and prison guard unions will resist this and lobby effectively against it, for self-interested reasons. (It's now common in some places to lock someone up in a private jail and then send them a bill when they get out. )

An interesting sideline is how people will react to these tracking bracelets becoming ubiquitous. It is likely to be a pretty obvious thing to discriminate on, in both subtle and unsubtle ways. (Do I want to hire the tattooed guy with the tracking bracelet to work at my cash register?)

CamelCaseRob said at February 18, 2015 9:46 AM:

The ultimate answer will be life-coaching robots who will be assigned to humans 24x7. They'll have the physical ability to keep "their" humans from harming others or committing crime.

Check it out said at February 18, 2015 4:52 PM:

"But we need a lot more research so we can more accurately identify the unredeemable."

No we don't. It is known far too well that around 97% of all crimes have an economic cause, either directly or indirectly. The remaining 3% are due to mental illness and therefore not criminals, but sick people who need to be cured or at least treated. Of course the number of psychos out there has now grown huge and growing fast. Hence our society plunging into a new dark age only a few decades ago, but at an ever increasing rate.

There are no "naturally born criminals" there are only people without access to resources or mentally ill.

CamelCaseRob said at February 18, 2015 5:29 PM:

With personally assigned robots, not only will there be no more crime, and therefore no need for jails and prisons, but there will also be no need for schools since robots will be able to function as one-on-one teachers. No bullying either.

Dan said at February 18, 2015 8:01 PM:

@Checkitout -


I mean, you were trying to tell a joke, right?

Big Bill said at February 21, 2015 5:22 AM:

"It is known far too well that around 97% of all crimes have an economic cause, either directly or indirectly."

Absolutely! Bank robbery has a major economic cause. Securities fraud does too. More recently, Swisher Sweet theft in Ferguson.

As far as indirect causes, rape does too:"I ain't got no money, fancy clothes [$], Cadillac car [$$], big house [$$$], so dat fine beotch won' do the dirty wit' me!"

I think Willie Sutton expressed the "economic cause" theory best. When asked by a reporter who was puzzled why Willie was a bank robber (instead of, e.g., a janitor or garbage man) Willie responded, "because that's where the money is!"

Seth W. said at February 23, 2015 2:54 PM:

@ Check it out.

I'm not sure it's 97%, although yes, it's a pretty high percentage.

@ Dan.

I don't think he/she was. There might be some truth to that, although there could be other causes too.

@ Big Bill.


Engineer-Poet said at February 23, 2015 5:19 PM:

The most crime-prone demographic in the USA kills over things like chicken wings, fights over chairs at baby showers and who makes better Kool-aid.  Economics has nothing to do with it.

CamelCaseRob said at February 24, 2015 3:46 PM:

Most of crime is based on economics, without doubt.

Engineer-Poet said at February 24, 2015 4:38 PM:

Please tell me how economics drives crimes like:

- Rape
- Aggravated assault
- The recent mob invasion of the movie theater in Ocoee, FL.

Seth W. said at February 25, 2015 2:59 PM:

@ Engineer-Poet,

I'm not sure, but maybe. I lean to agree with Check it out and CamelCaseRob. Not every cause is economic, but here's a try.

-Rape: Not enough money to get married -and everything that has to go with marriage like house, cars, food, clothes, etc,- and thus have sex. Women marry financial security even if you still believe it's about love. You have to provide. If you have enough money -and some free time to go with it- you'll have a willing wife, who is not all stressed out. You can really buy love, or at least women's love. I hear that's been done in America for quite a while now.

-Aggravated assault: Same. Not enough money to give you enough confidence to feel like a man. You need money to feel manly. Men who assault need to feel manly in any possible way, but they just don't have the money to feel manly.

-The recent mob invasion of the movie theater in Ocoee, FL.: Are you serious?? Maybe you are. Well, we can also go on with "kids shooting around in schools and universities, right? Same: Fed up with the economic system. Kids feeling and actually knowing they have no future really. Can't pay those university tuition fees. People are fed up with everything having to have some economic pursuit against competition.

Engineer-Poet said at February 26, 2015 1:37 AM:

Yeah, all the hood rats pumping out welfare babies (paid for with Federal housing vouchers, EBT and SSI "crazy money") aren't getting any sex because they can't afford to get married; it's all immaculate conception.  With the right tone of voice you could turn this into a good comedy act.

Just to give me a really good laugh, why don't you tell me the economic explanation for why the gang of "ethnic" thugs attacked Zemir Begic's car with hammers, then murdered him in cold blood... and didn't take anything before running off?

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