Folks should know some basic facts about criminals before applauding the Senate's vote for sweeping federal criminal justice reform.
One basic finding in criminology is that criminals are not specialists. They are opportunists who like to cut corners by stealing stuff, selling drugs, and using violence to get their way. Serving a sentence for drug dealing in no way implies that the offender is simply a businessman who never steals or attacks people. He happens to be serving a sentence for a drug conviction, but next time it is almost as likely to be for a property crime or violence.
Also--criminals who are serving time in federal prison for a drug offense are not decent people who simply have a drug addiction problem. They are traffickers. More than 90% of all felonies are plea bargained, so it is not uncommon for someone charged with trafficking to get it reduced to a lesser offense like possession in exchange for a guilty plea. The only druggies who are locked up in federal prison are people who commit other types of federal crimes--i.e., serious stuff.
Almost all ex-convicts recidivate. A recent study that tracked former inmates for 10 years found that more than 80% were reconvicted and returned to prison, many within two or three years. And those were only the criminals who were caught. Research shows that many offenders will commit dozens of crimes without ever being apprehended, and some criminals are more skilled at evading arrest and conviction than others.
All the evidence points to criminality being a life-long trait that is highly influenced by genes. Noticeably bad behavior emerges early in life, it becomes more obnoxious and dangerous when the boy (it's typically a boy) reaches adolescence; serious criminality peaks around age 20; and the criminal impulse weakens as a man ages into his 30s and beyond. It follows testosterone levels over the life-course. (There is another pattern of rebellious adolescence which starts later, ends much earlier, and remains more superficial than what we see with the hard cases.)
And one of the only ways to stop the biologically-driven career criminal is to incapacitate him behind bars.
And perhaps even dumber than setting hard cases free is to allow them conjugal visits, so we increase the rate of hard cases into the next generation.
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