2015 April 15 Wednesday
Victorian Era Young Offenders Less Likely To Re-Offend Than Today

Young British criminals of today are going to re-offend. It was not always thus.

Young offenders in late Victorian times were much less likely to go on to commit other crimes after serving a sentence in an institution than their counterparts today, new research shows.

A study of the lives of 500 children committed to reformatory or industrial schools over a century ago showed that only 22% re-offended during the rest of their lives after their release. This compares with today's figure of 73% of young people re-offending within a year after release from custody.

Why? Is there less stigma associated with being a criminal today? Or are low criminality kids less likely to get convicted today and so the ones that are convicted are already worse on average before being locked up? Or do prisons today do more to make criminals harden in to more intense criminals? What is going on?

One other question: Is this a sign that society is decaying?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2015 April 15 09:05 PM 

Mike Street Station said at April 16, 2015 7:19 AM:

That's a fascinating observation. My off the top of my head guess is that there wasn't a "permanent record" following you around to stigmatize you in getting work. In the here and now, a criminal record means most large companies won't hire you for other than minimum wage work.

XVO said at April 16, 2015 12:16 PM:

Were the punishments more severe back then? Yes...

Nick Ripe said at April 16, 2015 5:05 PM:

I think we're just another evolutionary dead-end.
Although we're around 7 billion in the planet now, I believe that in less than 100 years the human species could very possibly be extinct.

Mercer said at April 16, 2015 5:57 PM:

" wasn't a "permanent record"

The article is about UK juveniles. I don't think minors records in the US can be googled. I don't know about the UK.

I'd suggest the reason is weak demand for low skilled male workers.

Jeff said at April 17, 2015 4:01 AM:

The Victorian population was all White. I assume that isn't true today. Maybe the groups imprisoned today are inherently more criminal.

Randall Parker said at April 17, 2015 8:59 PM:


Permanent record: That seems like it makes a difference.

Another difference: there is less work available for the least cognitively able today. At the same time there is more welfare state to support people in idleness.

Stephen said at April 20, 2015 4:23 PM:

Seems to me that the key factor at work here is the ready availability of low IQ unskilled jobs in Victorian England. People who are working 14hr days doing manual labor don't have the energy to get up to any mischief.

albatross said at April 28, 2015 8:30 AM:

Also, there were probably a lot more people who were genuinely caught up in crime due to poverty (like, stealing so they could eat). Modern first-world countries are enormously richer and better run, everyone gets sent to school and gets enough to eat, etc.

A parallel is illiteracy. In 1850s America, illiteracy mostly was about lack of opportunity. In 1815 America, illiteracy is more-or-less entirely about inability. The pool of illiterates in 1815 and 2015 are completely different, and it's hard to compare them.

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