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Violent Offenders Drive Crime and Incarceration
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 02/18/2019

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There are many who see violent crime as an all-encompassing series of events that destroy cities, economic development, schools and the quality of life for millions of Americans. Throughout my career, I met hundreds of victims of violent crime and it’s clear that their victimization was a life-changing event. It always struck me that anyone interested in a humanitarian approach to life would do everything in their power to combat violence in America.

I say this while recognizing that there continues to be a heated debate regarding the rate of incarceration in the United States, with advocates stating that we have to find alternatives for violent offenders and consider early releases from prison, The Washington Post. Some want to cut the prison population by 50 percent, The Marshall Project.

Violent offenders are the heart and soul of the crime and incarceration problems in the United States. The fundamental question is whether we want leniency for people convicted of rape, robbery, aggravated assault or murder? If the #metoo movement stands for anything, it’s accountability for those who assault and demean.

Cutting Prison Populations

To reduce prison numbers, you would have to significantly cut the violent population. More than half (54%) of state prisoners were serving sentences for violent offenses, Bureau of Justice Statistics. If you took prior violent charges and convictions into consideration, the percentage would be much higher. The federal Bureau of Prisons holds a much smaller percentage of violent offenders; the share of violent offenders in federal prison decreased from 8% in 2004 to 7% in 2014, Crime in America.

If you want to reduce prison numbers, you have to include a very high percentage of violent offenders.

Arrests

There are endless articles addressing the fact that arrests for homicides are down (see series at the Washington Post) and many rape investigations do not end in an arrest.

Arrests were made in fewer than 25 percent of Philadelphia armed robberies over the last five years, with the solution rate about the same each year, Philly.com reports. Philadelphia police are not alone among urban police departments in failing to solve armed robberies. Atlanta police reported that just 7.7 percent of armed robberies resulted in arrests in 2017, while Houston police said 26 percent resulted in arrests in 2017. Nationally, the 2017 arrest rate for robberies was 29.7 percent, the FBI says.

Built-In Leniency

The overwhelming number of offenders (95 percent) are plea-bargained (i.e., aggravated assault charges become disorderly conduct convictions), Bureau of Justice Assistance,

A small percentage (42 percent) of felony convictions get terms of prison, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

On average, violent offenders serve less than three years in prison, Crime in America.

Leniency is built into the justice system. Thus violent offenders who get a prison sentence are usually there for a good reason based on criminal history and the severity of the crime.

Recidivism

Previous data (inmates released in 2005) looking at state inmates suggest that the type of crime doesn’t matter much as to recidivism, Crime in America. But the data below from the US Sentencing Commission suggests that violent offenders recidivate (via arrests, convictions and reincarcerations) much more than non-violent offenders.

The fundamental problem is that rearrests, reconvictions and reincarcerations are massive for all those leaving state and federal prisons with five out of six released offenders arrested again, Crime in America.

Violence Increases in The US

The number of persons who had been victims of violent crime is up 17 percent from 2015, Crime in America.

Conclusions

Violent crime is increasing, violent offenders escape arrest, they do not serve long prison sentences, and violent offenders recidivate more.

It’s a fair question as to whether the violent crime problem in so many American cities is being driven by those with histories of violence and repeat offenses.

Most in law enforcement would suggest that it is.

Is it a fair question to ask if advocates for reduced incarceration of violent offenders place society at greater risk?

Based on the data below and the numbers offered above, it seems obvious that violent offenders, especially those with serious criminal histories, are an obvious threat to society.

For those advocating for less incarceration of violent offenders, it’s as if the #MeToo movement never existed.

I’m not suggesting that violent criminals stay in prison forever and they should be given the assistance they need to safely return to society. But at the moment, the data seems to be on their side of the equation. There needs to be a greater balance in favor of victims of violence.

There is a dramatic difference between state and federal recidivism (federal recidivism is much less) with the US Sentencing Commission suggesting that the reason is the longer sentences for federal inmates and the fact they serve 85 percent of their sentence, Crime in America.

Recidivism Among Violent Offenders-US Sentencing Commission

Previous Commission research has shown that violent offenders have a distinct criminal history and recidivism characteristics. The Commission’s 2016 Report To The Congress: Career Offender Enhancements (“Career Offender Report”) showed that career offenders who committed a violent instant offense or violent prior offense generally have a more serious and extensive criminal history, recidivate at a higher rate, and are more likely to commit another violent offense in the future compared to career offenders who received the designation based solely on drug trafficking convictions.

Likewise, the Commission’s 2017 report, The Past Predicts the Future: Criminal History and Recidivism of Federal Offenders, showed that violent offenders generally recidivate more quickly and at a higher rate compared to most other offenders.

These findings prompted the Commission to study federal offenders who engaged in violent criminal conduct in greater detail.

This report provides a comprehensive recidivism analysis of federal offenders who engaged in violent criminal conduct as part of their instant federal offense or during prior criminal activity.

This study identified two groups of violent offenders: (1) 2,596 federal offenders who engaged in violent criminal conduct as part of their instant federal offense (“violent instant offenders”) and, (2) 7,408 offenders who were not categorized as violent offenders based on their instant federal offense, but who had been arrested for a violent offense in their past (“violent prior offenders”).

Taken together, these 10,004 offenders (collectively, the “violent offenders”) are analyzed in comparison to 15,427 federal offenders who had not engaged in violent conduct during the instant federal offense and who were never arrested for a violent crime in their past (“non-violent offenders”).

Conclusion

This report examined the recidivism rates of violent offenders compared to non-violent offenders.

Almost two-fifths (39.3%) of the 25,431 offenders studied in this report engaged in violent criminal activity as part of their instant federal offense or prior criminal conduct.

Violent offenders generally recidivated at a higher rate, more quickly, and for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders, regardless of whether the violence occurred during the instant federal offense or during prior criminal activity.

Criminal history is strongly associated with recidivism among violent offenders and non-violent federal offenders. Although violent offenders have higher recidivism rates than non-violent offenders in every category, the difference is more evident in CHC I through CHC III (editor’s note-their classification as to the seriousness of criminal history)

For offenders with more serious criminal histories (those offenders in CHCs IV through VI), the recidivism rates for violent offenders and non-violent offenders become more similar.

Among all offenders in this study, the recidivism rate for those in CHC VI based on accumulation of criminal history points is over 80 percent (87.1% for violent offenders; 85.3% for violent prior offenders; 81.8% for non-violent offenders).

Violent offenders recidivated at a higher rate and appear to desist from criminal activity later in life than non-violent offenders—violent offenders continued to recidivate at a high rate until reaching age 50 at the time of release from prison.

Even after age 50, violent offenders recidivated at more than double the rate of non-violent offenders in the same age group.

Key Findings

Consistent with the Commission’s previous research, this report shows that offenders who engaged in violent criminal activity—whether during the instant federal offense or as part of prior criminal conduct—generally recidivated at a higher rate, more quickly, and for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders.

Key findings of the Commission’s study of recidivism among violent offenders are:

A substantial number of the 25,431 U.S. offenders released in calendar year 2005—39.3 percent—engaged in violent criminal activity as part of their instant federal offense or prior criminal conduct.

Violent offenders recidivated at a higher rate than non-violent offenders. Over 60 percent (63.8%) of violent offenders recidivated by being rearrested for a new crime or for a violation of supervision conditions. This compares to less than 40 percent (39.8%) of non-violent offenders who were rearrested during the follow-up period.

Violent offenders recidivated more quickly than non-violent offenders. Of those violent offenders who recidivated, the median time from release to the first recidivism event was 18 months. Comparatively, the median time from release to the first recidivism event for non-violent offenders was 24 months.

Violent offenders recidivated for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders. Over one-fourth (28.4%) of the violent offenders who recidivated had assault as their most serious new charge, followed by public order crimes (15.6%) and drug trafficking (11.1%).

Of the non-violent offenders who recidivated, public order crimes were the most common new charge (20.9%), followed by assault (17.9%) and drug trafficking (12.0%).

Violent offenders have higher recidivism rates than non-violent offenders in every Criminal History Category, however, the difference in recidivism rates between violent and non-violent offenders is most pronounced in the lower Criminal History Categories and among offenders designated as career offenders or armed career criminals.

Recidivism rates for violent offenders in every age group at the time of release from custody were higher than the rates for non-violent offenders. Violent offenders recidivated at twice the rate of non-violent offenders among those released after age 40.

Analyzed separately, violent instant offenders and violent prior offenders both recidivated at a higher rate and for more serious crimes than nonviolent offenders.

Most Serious Recidivism Event

Violent instant offenders were rearrested for more serious crimes than non-violent offenders. Among the violent instant offenders who recidivated, assault was the single most serious new charge for 23.6 percent followed by public order crimes (19.4%). In comparison, as shown in Figure 2.8 on page 13, of the non-violent offenders who recidivated, public order crimes were the most common new charge (20.9%) followed by assault (17.9%).

A higher percentage of violent instant offenders were rearrested for robbery (15.1%), rape (3.6%), or homicide (1.8%) compared to non-violent offenders who were rearrested for those crimes. Comparatively, as shown in Figure 2.8, less than two percent of non-violent offenders were rearrested for robbery (1.9%) or rape (1.5%), and less than one percent of non-violent offenders were rearrested for homicide (0.9%).

Robbery Offenders

Robbery offenders constitute the largest group of violent instant offenders (1,196 or 46.1 percent of the 2,596 violent instant offenders).

Robbery offenders recidivated at a higher rate, more quickly, and for more serious offenses than did the other 1,400 violent instant offenders. Robbery offenders recidivated at a rate of 66.8 percent compared to 54.5 percent for all other violent instant offenders.

Robbery offenders recidivated more quickly than other violent instant offenders. The median time to rearrest among those robbery offenders who recidivated was 14 months compared to 20 months for other violent instant offenders.

Robbery offenders had higher recidivism rates than other violent instant offenders in every age group over 30 years old at the time of release.

Recidivism rates for robbery offenders increased until reaching age 50 at the time of release (rising from 66.2% for those released under the age of 26 to 72.2% for those released at age 41 through 50).

The recidivism rate for robbery offenders released after age 50 is almost twice as high as the rate for all other violent instant offenders (47.0% compared to 26.9%).42

Reprinted with permission from http://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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