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Scarlet Letters and Recidivism: Does an Old Criminal Record Predict Future Offending?

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 5 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2006 Pages: 483-504
Megan C. Kurlychek; Robert Brame; Shawn D. Bushway
Date Published
August 2006
22 pages
This study examined whether the risk of offending for an ex-offender ever became similar or equal to the risk of offending for a nonoffender.
Main findings revealed that, first, the risk of offending for persons with a prior arrest rapidly approached the risk of offending for persons without a prior arrest at the 5-year follow-up, but the offenders were still more likely to offend than the nonoffenders. The difference in the reoffending risk between the two groups after 5 years was small but statistically significant. Second, the results indicated that the differences in reoffending risk between the offender and nonoffender groups grew consistently smaller as time passed. The findings suggest that policymakers should evaluate the level of reoffending risk based, at least in part, on the length of time that has passed since the last offense. The authors urge policymakers to consider dropping the “offender” label after a sufficient amount of time has passed since the last offense in order to open up employment and other opportunities for ex-offenders who have not reoffended. Data on 13,160 males born in the city of Philadelphia in 1958 and who resided in the city when they were between the ages of 10 and 17 years old were drawn from the Second Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study. The dataset included information from police on the dates and circumstances of arrests for the 1958 birth cohort. Data were examined using both a hazard rate analysis and calculations of the conditional probability that an individual was arrested during the 2-year period of ages 25 and 26. Follow-up studies should attempt to replicate these findings using different populations from different locations and other time periods. Future research should also incorporate longer follow-up periods. Figures, tables, footnotes, references