Violent offenders recidivate at higher rates despite age, criminal history

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published new findings last week regarding the recidivism of federal offenders, finding that violent offenders recidivate at higher rates than their non-violent counterparts. The study used USSC data coupled with FBI criminal history records to examine eight-year recidivism rates for 13,883 federal offenders released in 2010. This study is part of a larger recidivism study that includes more than 32,000 federal offenders.

These findings support the longstanding idea that violent offenders are more likely to recidivate than non-violent offenders. While recidivism rates tended to decline with age, they were still consistently higher for violent offenders across all age groups. This was seen even in the oldest age category where most individuals are presumed to have “aged out of crime” (60+ years). Even among those 60 years and older, one quarter of violent offenders were rearrested within eight years.

Within eight years post release, 63.8% of violent offenders had been rearrested, compared with 38.4% of non-violent offenders. In addition, violent offenders were rearrested more quickly than non-violent offenders (16 months compared with 22 months). Not surprisingly, violent offenders were nearly 17% more likely to be rearrested for a violent offense (38.9% compared with 22%). For both violent and non-violent offenders, the most common offense at re-arrest was assault (24.9% and 15.4%, respectively).

Age at release was a strong predictor of recidivism for both violent and non-violent offenders, and rearrests decreased steadily with each subsequent age group. Within each age group, violent offenders consistently had higher rearrest rates than non-violent offenders. For example, in the group of people aged 60 and older, 25.1% of violent offenders were rearrested, compared with 11.5% of non-violent offenders. A similar finding was seen regarding criminal history. While criminal history category (CHC) was strongly and positively linked with recidivism for both violent and non-violent offenders, violent offenders still had consistently higher re-arrest rates in every criminal history category.

The findings shown here are consistent with previous USSC findings for offenders released in 2005. 63.8% of violent offenders released in 2010 were re-arrested within eight years of release, which was the same rate for offenders released in 2005. For non-violent offenders, 38.4% of those released in 2010 were re-arrested, compared with 39.8% of those released in 2005. Similarly, both reports showed that violent offenders were rearrested more quickly than non-violent offenders (about 6-7 months earlier in both cohorts). Further, violent offenders in both cohorts were more likely to recidivate regardless of age and criminal history category.

Generally speaking, people with more serious criminal histories, those committing more violent offenses, and those who are younger at time of release have higher rates of recidivism. This report supports all of these ideas. Additionally, the report suggests that violent offenders are more likely to recidivate regardless of criminal history and age. Based on the results, it seems clear that: 1) violent offenders pose greater threats to public safety and have a greater propensity to re-offend, and 2) violent arrests are predictive of recidivism even for offenders of similar age and with similar criminal histories.

The key policy implication is that committing a violent offense is a key predictor of recidivism. These findings might justify the need for sentence enhancements for violent offenders if they are truly more dangerous and more likely to recidivate.

Further, it is important to note that 25% of violent offenders aged 60 and older still recidivated, and therefore did not appear to “age out” of crime. This is important to consider in light of policy decisions that call for mass releases of offenders due to their age, deeming them “no longer a risk” to public safety. Per the USSC report, a substantial percentage of violent offenders were re-arrested even in the oldest age cohort. From a policy perspective, it is probably not wise to assume that all offenders (particularly violent ones) will desist from crime just because of their age.

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