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Murderers Who Killed During Robberies More Likely to Return to Crime When Paroled

Murderers who committed homicide during robberies are more likely to commit crimes again when they are paroled, compared to murderers who committed homicide under other circumstances, according to research from North Carolina State University and Harvard University.

“We wanted to know what determines whether former homicide offenders commit crime when released from prison,” says Dr. Margaret Zahn, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “We found that the motivation for murder was a significant predictor.”

The researchers evaluated the records of 92 paroled homicide offenders who were convicted of murder in Philadelphia, Penn., between 1977 and 1983. They found that 66 percent of parolees who committed murder during a robbery committed a crime after being released from prison, compared with 55 percent of parolees who had committed murder under other circumstances.

“One reason for this is that in-prison interventions, if any, tend to focus on anger-management issues, and that does not address financial motivations for committing murder,” Zahn says.

“This research is significant because, if you’re going to release people on parole, it is important to look at the motivations for their previous crime; those motivations can offer insights into future behavior,” Zahn adds. “It is information that parole officers can use to better monitor their cases.”

Future research should explore whether these trends are consistent across jurisdictions and whether neighborhood characteristics influence recidivism rates, as well as strategies used by parolees who don’t commit crimes upon release.

The paper, “Criminal Recidivism among Homicide Offenders,” is published online in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Lead author of the paper is Dr. Marieke Liem, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University. The paper was co-authored by Lisa Tichavsky, a Ph.D. student at NC State. The research was supported, in part, by a Marie Curie Outgoing Fellowship for Career Development.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Criminal Recidivism among Homicide Offenders”

Authors: Marieke Liem, Harvard University; Margaret A. Zahn and Lisa Tichavsky, North Carolina State University

Published: online January 2014, Journal of Interpersonal Violence

DOI: 10.1177/0886260513517302

Abstract: Homicide offenders are released to communities in large numbers. Little is known, however, about how these offenders fare after release. The aim of this study is threefold: To examine recidivism patterns among released homicide offenders, to assess to what extent predictors for recidivism are similar to those for other violent offenders, and to study whether the degree of recidivism differs by type of homicide. Using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, we extracted all individuals who committed a homicide in Philadelphia between 1977-1983 and who were paroled. Data were supplemented with court documents, police department data and newspaper articles. We examined frequency and severity of recidivism, and used logistic regression analyses and survival analyses to examine the likelihood and time to recidivism. Of the 92 paroled homicide offenders, 54% recidivated; 15% recidivated with a violent offense. Race and original conviction for a financially motivated homicide were significant predictors of recidivism. While socio-demographic predictors of recidivism have theoretical and practical significance, focusing on factors associated with the motive of the original homicide may prove highly beneficial for intervention strategies and post-release planning.

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