Jan 12, 2018 in Law

Career Criminals/Repeated Offenders

Literature Review

Repeated offenders or so-called career criminals are the individuals who failed to rehabilitate after the crime commitment and after being punished by the corresponding law. Such individuals are also called repeated offenders, and this concept implies that they violated the same law again even after having experienced the law punishment. For the appropriate functioning of the society the idea of rehabilitating citizens with criminal past is essential. In spite of all the offered opportunities to turn over a new leaf some individuals with criminal background make their choice to go on with the crime path even after a variety of legislative interventions including imprisonment, drug court, probation, charges, alternative sentencing and inpatient drug treatment. In some sources the term applies to merely those former prisoners who got arrested again (even for a different crime). Career criminals are involved in criminal behaviors and frequently become ‘addicted’ to violating the law. This may also be accompanies by substance abuse as another factor of influence.  

A repeated offender is a person who was already convicted and punished for a crime but got caught once more for committing the same crime and violating the same law that his former prosecution was related to. A career criminal is a person convicted for the same crime for three or more times and arrested for five or more times. However, this exact definition may vary from state to state though the core idea stays the same.

The similarity is expressed in the tendency of both career criminal and repeated offender to violate the same law though career criminals may commit different kinds of crimes unlike the repeated offenders. Obviously, a repeated offender is ‘one step behind’ from the career criminal, and such individual is more likely to be treated properly and give up on crime. All career criminals used to be repeated offenders in the beginning but not all repeated offenders should necessarily become career criminals.

The most important stakeholders that are interested in this issue are former incarcerated individuals, their families and friends (particularly their children), victims who were harmed by the criminal and because of who the criminal was incarcerated, and the participants of the judicial process starting from police officers to jail officers that guard prison security. On a global scale every member of the society is affected by recidivism to some extent, as crime is an issue in every single human community, so everyone of us may become a victim. Apart from the physical, psychological and robbery damage that can come as a result of a crime for a regular citizen, the part of all tax payments is used to cover the costs of incarceration, so more criminals will result in less finance for other social spheres such as education or medicine.  

The paradigm of criminal career is a framework that collects dimensions and features related to individual offending and tracks criminal activity over the course of time. It concentrates on the crime frequency and prevalence, making a stress upon specialization of the crime, criminal’s personal characteristics of t, severity of the offense, and the criminal background period. Along with the framework of criminal careers, criminology provides more complicated theoretical justifications and explanations for crime and offense which emphasize the importance of the risk factors depending on the age of the individual that influence violating the law during a criminal career.

The review by Alex Piquero from University of Texas provides a systematic investigation of the role of violence in criminal careers focusing specifically on the frequency along with prevalence and its part of the offense background (2012). Its results demonstrate that the violence incidence is rather rare in a criminal career with an exception of a small group of career offenders who are responsible for the majority of all severe offenses. In terms of crime specialization, the results of statistical analysis suggest that criminals are mostly non-specialized and severe offenders can mainly be characterized as frequent abusers who violate the law more often and therefore have a higher probability of committing a severe offense in their criminal path.

Over the last three decades multiple studies have been conducted by various institutions and scientific groups including criminologist groups, major universities and the US Justice Department (2004). It has been found out that Pareto rule can be applied in this sphere too as 80% of all law violations are made by 20% of criminals. Pareto rule originally applied to economics and explained income distribution (20% of all people in the world earn 80% of the world income) but afterwards it was extended to other spheres, and criminology is no exception. Although these numbers may vary from study to study (Nickell, 2009) it is still obvious that a smaller group of individuals are responsible for the majority of all crimes, and that implies multiple crimes. This idea has been supported by such researchers as Chaiken and Chaiken (1982), Wolfgang scientific group (1972), Petersilia (1972), Martin and Sherman (1986) and others.

This study investigates the factors influencing career criminals or repeated offenders. It is an important phenomenon to study and analyze because the reasons behind recidivism and possible recommendations need to be developed. Recidivism is a proof of the existence of inefficient trainings and punishments for the undesirable behaviors, and it is one more reason why career criminals require much attention. However, the factors of inner individual psychology surely need to be taken into account as well. A substantial theoretical base for assessing repetitive criminal behaviors will help to address each individual case that is usually very specific and rather difficult to classify. The attitude of the scientists towards repeated offenders is varying. Surely, it is largely justified by the varying nature of the crimes that are dictated by different urges – for example, the origins of sexual crimes and robberies are too different to compare and contrast as they come as a consequence of different necessities, and the perception of these different types of misbehavior in the eyes of the society and each individual may be unique.

The only uniting factor of all career offenders is the psychopathic tendency which is determined as an uninhibited satisfaction that is achieved only through sexual, criminal and other aggressive impulses and is accompanied by the lack of ability to learn from former mistakes. Feeling of remorse is what the majority of career criminals lack, and the antisocial behavioral patterns they choose lead to satisfaction. Antisocial behaviors of the psychopathic criminals are usually expressed in no desire for self-perfection and neglecting the offered rehabilitation programs even if they pretend to adhere to them. The only reason why they would start such programs is the decreased sentence risk or the opportunity to get out of incarceration earlier.  It is not surprising for police officers to encounter career criminals who have been to prison for three, four or five times, and many times such individuals are found to “have bargains” with the judicial system while social economy, safety and proper punishment are at time minor priorities for the law (Nickell, 2009).

One of the actions and recommendations that are frequently offered by the researchers named above include the greater concentration of the justice system as well as the law enforcement on the individuals that can be called repeated offenders. Although each country offers its own unique set of laws dedicated to habitual crimes it is quite important to calculate the efficiency of each individual measure or punishment. For example, in the United States there were several court cases that led to a decision that the state may press more severe punishments on those individuals who are repeated offenders: Graham vs. West Virginia that resulted in heavier punishments for repeated offenders (1912), Solem vs. Helm that determined the proportions between the committed crime and punishment (1983), Oyler vs. Boles that supported the established life penalties for a repeating crime (1962) and Rummel vs. Estelle that introduced life imprisonment with the parole possibility for third felony offense as a usual punishment (1980).

In spite of the lower chances on changing the behaviors of psychopathic criminals or permanent drug abusers, the UK rate of criminal recidivism is 10% lower than the same rate in the United States. It is mostly justified by the introduction of trainings, educational and rehabilitation programs for criminals in the UK instead of keeping them as far as possible from the society during the imprisonment which is a common practice in the USA. Social rehabilitation of the criminals is in most cases more valuable for society in general as the majority of criminals (up to 95%) come back to the society to start a new life. In some cases incarceration may have negative influence on the individual, and teaching the person how to give up on crime should rather be the focus of the law rather than punishing the criminal without explaining why it happened and how it can be fixed. Punishment should not be what the judicial system concentrates on as the majority of former prisoners still have to become society members again, and it is the task of the law to ensure that all of the opportunities to start a new life have been provided to such people (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004). This is possible due to the new rehabilitation programs and psychological/social support provided in the first two years after the incarceration is over.

One of the most efficient solutions has been introduced by California state – their rule is also called as the rule of three strikes. After an individual is caught violating the same law for the third time he or she is sentenced to death without parole. The rule applies only to serious crime offenses at the felony level. The list generally includes robbery of a residence with the application of dangerous or deadly weapons, murder, sex offense, residence burglary and assault with either robbery or murder intentions. The calculations of the criminal index demonstrate that since this regulation has been introduced into the state judicial system there has been a significant drop in the repeated crime rate (Nickell, 2009). During the time period of the last 10 years the impact of three-strike policy along with other influential factors led to a decrease of almost a half (45%) in the crime rate of the state in general. In New York the Laa of Three Strikes was recognized as unconstitutional by a federal appeals court but in California it still applies to repeated felony crimes.

Repeated crimes are not always voluntarily reported to the police, and in the majority of cases the repeated offenders even prefer to hide the fact that they violated the law again. It is justified by the more severe punishments that are generally pressed on the violators. That is why the real rates of recurring crimes and the recorded police data may be very different.

The incarceration effect is one of the most widely discussed aspects related to career criminals in the last few years. Statistic studies in the US prove that more than a half (53%) of male criminals and almost a half (39%) of female criminals become repeated offenders and get to prison again (Visher, 2003). Due to the “overpopulation” and worsened conditions inside American prisons the crimes continues to take place inside prison walls, and the incarceration resulted in more repeated crimes due to the increased environment influence. The current incarceration system with its weaknesses is not able to bring up the best in the former criminals in order to help them become successful members of the community. The importance of this problem cannot be overestimated because the absolute majority (95%) of all former prisoners comes back to the community as the study of Hughes and Wilson demonstrated (2002). The nationwide study demonstrates that 70% of all arrested males commit crimes again in the following 3 years coming back to prison (Visher, 2003). The author justifies it by the personal circumstances, lack of stability, social environment influence, family issues, state policies, community and peers influence. Other individual factors may include the important things that took place before the imprisonment, while the incarceration and after the individual left the prison. Therefore, the individual finds it challenging to fit into normal life because the family ties require reestablishment, and the criminal record harms their ability to start working again. Although prisoners generally have optimistic bright expectations of what is waiting for them when they are liberated, they frequently end up with inevitable problems (Visher, 2003).

General data that has been accumulated by American judicial systems prove that a male who has a tendency to violate the law and get arrested will be charged and incarcerated at least two times before the age of 65 on the average. Therefore, each citizen will lose a whole of 17-20 cents out of each tax dollar paid. Around 40% of all former prisoners get arrested in the following year after the incarceration term is over while the number grows up to 60% in the following three years. Criminals are not necessarily charged for the same crime again but 75% do violate the law once again, and the list may include property abuse, drug offenses and other types. About one-seventh of all these new recurring crimes are violent, and a sufficient part is either rape or murder (Henslin, 2008). Meanwhile, many of the incarcerated prisoners are sexually offended and physically damaged by their inmates (up to 70%). When such an offense takes place the victim is exposed to heavy emotional and physical damage, and in the majority of cases no support from the judicial system is provided.  

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