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News

Focus on felons ignores large part of homicide threat, study finds

Duke University Pratt School Of Engineering : 06 January, 2007  (Technical Article)
Conventional wisdom suggests that repeat offenders commit most serious crimes, so strategies aimed at them, such as stiffer prison sentences, are the key to reducing homicide rates. Yet a new study in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that approach could address only about 30 percent of the homicide cases, at most.
“Sure, ex-convicts are much more likely to commit homicide than the average guy,” said Duke University public policy professor Philip J. Cook, the study’s lead author. But the researchers’ analysis of all arrests and felony convictions in Illinois from 1990 to 2001 showed that while more than 70 percent of adult homicide arrestees had been arrested at least once, only a third had been convicted of a felony.

‘I’m not saying programs targeted at felons are a bad idea,” Cook said. “But it would be a mistake to think that’s the whole answer, or to suggest that still harsher penalties for felons would have much effect on the homicide rate.”

The research report, titled “Criminal Records of Homicide Offenders,” was published in the JAMA. The study’s co-authors are Jens Ludwig of Georgetown University and Anthony Braga of Harvard University. Cook and Ludwig are co-authors of the book “Gun Violence: The Real Costs” (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Cook, a professor at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke who has been researching gun control, alcohol abuse and violence for more than 25 years, said the study’s results are relevant to the regulation of firearms as well. Federal law prohibits firearm possession by convicted felons and domestic violence offenders.

“These categories leave a large part of the homicide problem untouched,” he said.

“Broader prevention strategies, including general deterrence and the regulation of firearms, alcohol and drugs, are important as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing the homicide rate.”

There were 17,638 homicide victims in 2002 in the United States.
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