Persons who have been arrested for burglary, robbery and larceny have about a 60 percent chance of again being arrested for crimes, according to a study released today. The study was financed by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.
One of 17 in a $1.5 million four year project conducted by the Institute for Law and Social Research, the study was designed to help law enforcement officials predict factors that lead to repeat offenses, so that habitual offenders can be identified for career criminal programs.
"Everybody is trying to reduce crime through . . . keeping the repeat offenders off the streets," said William Hamilton, president of the Institute.
"What this study shows is that if the career criminal programs are to be effective, there has to be a research base on how to target for the recidivist group," Hamilton said. "The study shows there are some clues you can use to identify such defendants, including how recent their crimes are, the number of crimes, the use of hard drugs and the age of the defendants.
Data for the research came from a study of 4,703 adults arrested for serious misdemeanors or felonies in the District of Columbia from Jan. 1, 1971, to Aug. 31, 1975. During that time, adults accounted for 11,052 arrests.
The study showed:
A small proportion of the defendants accounted for a large share of arrests. About 30 percent of the defendants were arrested two or more times and accounted for 56 percent of the total arrests. Almost one-fourth of the 11,052 arrests involved only 7 percent of the defendants in the study group.
Youthful offenders should be the target of efforts to prevent recidivism. Two-thirds of those arrested again were under 30 years old and 31 percent of repeaters were between the ages of 20 to 24. Researchers said law enforcement officials should have access to juvenile records to help identify repeaters and place them in programs at an earlier age. Currently, juvenile records of offenders are not available to police once the person reaches 18 and is considered an adult. At that time, they begin a new criminal record.
An employed defendant was less likely to be arrested again. "Perhaps a lack of job leads to more crime to support oneself, or perhaps lack of a job "indicates a tendency to adopt an illegal life style," the study said.
Drug use also was consistently a reliable indication with repeaters. Defendants who used opiates, including heroin, were more likely to commit more crimes than those arrested for possession of marijuana.
Among those who did become habitual offenders, the study found a tendency to switch crimes, alternating between felonies and misdemeanors. "This suggests that career criminal programs that target only persons arrested for a felony may be missing many serious repeat offenders," the study said. The study gave no support for the concept of a professional robber or burglar.