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Who Gets Caught Doing Crime?

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 1985
This study of types of offenders and their rates of arrest offers suggestions for distinguishing between the most serious offenders and lesser offenders.

Data were obtained from two different surveys of male prison inmates: a 1978-79 Rand Corporation survey in California, Michigan, and Texas prisons; and a 1979 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of 11,397 inmates in 215 State correctional facilities. For the purposes of this study, Rand survey respondents were considered to be "high-rate" if they reported committing any one of seven types of crime at rates higher than 70 percent of respondents who also committed that crime. The offenders who are arrested frequently despite their relatively low rate of committing crimes are called "low-rate losers" in this study. The study shows that some arrestees with apparently extensive arrest histories are not high-rate, serious offenders. Rather, they are somewhat inept, unprofessional criminals who may be arrested nearly every time they commit a crime. Based on their arrest record alone, it is practically impossible to distinguish them from offenders who commit crimes at high rates. Based on this finding, the authors caution against trying to use as indicators of high-rate criminal behavior the total number of times individuals have been arrested or convicted as adults. To make these determinations, their official records must be examined in combination with specific information about their methods for committing crimes; their life-long history of arrest, conviction, and incarceration; and their drug-use patterns. Among the inmates in the study sample was found a small group of high- rate offenders who had been getting away with crimes for many years and therefore had short or nonexistent records of prior arrests and convictions. These "successful" criminals were all eventually caught and convicted, but they may be similar to persistent high-rate offenders out on the streets who still are successfully avoiding arrest and conviction and who officially appear to be "clean." This report outlines the information criminal justice practitioners can use to improve their ability to distinguish between high-rate and low-rate criminals. 30 tables and a 48-item bibliography

Date Published: October 1, 1985