criminals, victims, and criminal victims
June 6, 2011 11:47 AM   Subscribe

How many criminals are also victims of crime?

I Googled the hell out of this but because of the weird and repetitive word structure it's hard to find an answer.

There's a lot of talk and writing about the rights of criminals vs. the rights of victims of crime. But I'm thinking a large percentage of criminals are probably also victims of crime, due to hanging out with other criminals and living relatively high-risk lifestyles. Anyone have any stats about this?
posted by crazylegs to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you asking how many people recently convicted of something are also currently victims? Or how many people who have ever been convicted of something were at some point a victim of a crime?
posted by bluedaisy at 11:50 AM on June 6, 2011

I took Criminology 101 a few years ago. You are correct; people who are criminals are victims at a much higher rate than any other segment of the population.
posted by Electrius at 12:03 PM on June 6, 2011

"Victim's Rights" aren't actually about rights, per se - they're about imposing more severe punishments, and are a thinly-veiled demand for revenge rather than a list of guaranteed freedoms.

You'll probably find that this is not just ungooglable but that the data actually doesn't exist for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that criminals are unlikely to report crimes.
posted by mhoye at 12:04 PM on June 6, 2011

Maybe this entry on Causes and correlates of crime on Wikipedia will help.

In particular, it says:
Victims and fear or crime

Risk of being a crime victim is highest for teens through mid 30s and lowest for the elderly. Fear of crime shows the opposite pattern. Criminals are more often crime victims. Females fear crimes more than males. Blacks appears to fear crime more. Blacks are more often victims, especially for murder.

You also might find that the National Crime Victim Resource Guide is helpful. This large-scale survey is helpful because it attempts to identify all crimes, not just reported crimes. (Warning: lots of data.)
posted by bluedaisy at 12:05 PM on June 6, 2011

This is a sticky wicket. You might find info on female offenders having been victims of sexual abuse or assault, but youre going to have to define crime and criminals. White collar criminals? Convicted criminals? Convicted of violent crime? For someone to be called a victim of a crime, would there have to be a legal record of it? Because if you consider criminals to be defined as "having been convicted" do you need a similar standard of record to be called a victim?

Being a criminal who has been a victim may have more to do with being in poverty than engaging in risky behaviors. Poor people may be more likely than rich people to get convicted of a crime with similar evidence against them. The behaviors of poor people may be criminalized (and are under greater scrutiny) than behaviors of the rich....etc.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:05 PM on June 6, 2011

By far the biggest block of prisoners in the US are there on drug charges.

It is hard to see how you someone who is in prison on a drug possession charge was himself the victim of another drug user. Perhaps you could say that drug users were exposed to drugs by other drug users, but I don't think this is what you mean.

I do not think drug possession charges have the same cycle of violence that abuse and sex crimes might have. And US prisons are over flowing with folks on drug possession charges.
posted by Flood at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2011

I believe that the figures are roughly 5% in federal prison are for drug possession. State level it is somewhere between 25%-30%
posted by edgeways at 12:47 PM on June 6, 2011

I thought most drug-related offenses were trafficking, not just possession.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:50 PM on June 6, 2011

I'd start with checking out the Bureau of Justice Statistics site.

Also, it may help if you start with focusing on just domestic violence, where I think there have been more studies done on people convicted of abuse having a higher incidence of having been victims of abuse by others in the past.

If your theory is that "a large percentage of criminals are probably also victims of crime, due to hanging out with other criminals and living relatively high-risk lifestyles", you may be interested in these numbers:

"According to Criminal Victimizations, 2009, victims knew the offenders in about 45% of violent crimes against men and 70% violent crimes against women

* Offenders known to the victims were most often identified as friends or acquaintances, accounting for a similar percentage of violence against male (34%)and female (33%) victims.
* Strangers were responsible for about 42% of all violent crimes measured by the NCVS in 2009.
* Intimate partners were responsible for 5% of all violence against males and 26% of all violence against females in 2009."

That doesn't precisely answer your question, but it is perhaps relevant to your underlying theory about victims hanging out with criminals.
posted by Eshkol at 1:05 PM on June 6, 2011

I can only speak for the UK, but there a Government survey between 2003-2006 of 10-25 year olds found that 50% of them had been victims of a personal crime in the previous 12 months. This was compared with 19% of non-offenders. See the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey here.

This relationship has been observed time and again in other evidence. Even anecdotally, justice practitioners will tell you that if you spend enough time in courts you often see the same clientele sitting in the dock one day and the witness box another day. Getting a comprehensive answer is complicated by the fact that there is no single dataset - well, not in the UK anyway - that gives everything one would want. The phrase normally used for it by criminologists is 'victim-offender overlap', which you might want to try Googling for your own jurisdiction.

There are various explanations for this relationship, which will partly depend on the offence type one is thinking about and on various other factors. One is that offenders may live in the same neighbourhood as other victims: so for example those living in a certain area are more likely to be victims of certain offences than others, because there are more offenders around. Another is that the social and economic risk factors for being a victim overlap with those for being an offender. Another is that being an offender puts you into situations where you are more likely to be a victim - eg being in a gang, being in prison, etc. Similarly being a victim may expose you to risks. In the short-term, an example might be being a victim of gang-related crime so joining a gang, carrying a knife etc yourself. In the longer-term, it might mean being a victim of abuse in your childhood which as others have said is a risk factor for being an abuser yourself.

In the UK at least the two phrases politicians use are "putting victims at the heart of the justice system" and "rebalancing the system in favour of the victim". Both are false dichotomies which ignore the reality of victimisation and offending patterns. They assume rights are a zero-sum game - ie you can only give rights to victims by taking them away from offenders - which is not correct. It is perfectly possible for both to have rights. But the idea of a system out of balance plays well with a public who also perceive this to be the case, even though sentencing has got tougher and tougher in recent years and even though if you give the public detailed information about sentences, they tend to give equal or even shorter terms than judges.

"Victim's Rights" aren't actually about rights, per se - they're about imposing more severe punishments, and are a thinly-veiled demand for revenge rather than a list of guaranteed freedoms.

While this may be true of the demands of some lobby groups - and certainly I am aware of a number of US groups to which this could apply - it is not true per se. There are plenty of rights - for example procedural ones such as rights to information, rights to support, rights to compensation - for which many groups campaign, at least in the UK, which are not about revenge but about dealing with recognised needs.
posted by greycap at 1:55 PM on June 6, 2011

The keywords you need here, I believe, are offending and victimization, although a lot of the study effort seems focused on juvenile crime.

Violent victimization is one of the most salient predictors of violent offending, and offending reliably predicts risk for victimization. Existing research shows that the relationship between victimization and offending is robust to a wide variety of variables. Some scholars speculate that violent victimization and offending are so intimately connected that it is not possible to fully understand them apart from one another. Despite much effort to identify the etiology of this phenomenon, it remains rather elusive. [Berg]
posted by dhartung at 1:55 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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