10 September 2013

Youth and Crime

You don't have to be terribly old to commit serious crimes.

Raul Antonio Pasillas mauled several people in Mexico at the age of 17 or 18 years old.
U.S. Marshals in Colorado arrested a fugitive charged in Mexico in a machete rampage in which he allegedly attacked a friend and three family members, severing eight fingers of one victim and striking others in the head.
Mexican authorities in Chihuahua have charged Raul Antonio Pasillas, 19, with four counts of attempted murder in an attack on New Year's Day, 2012.
From the Denver Post.

While the charges against Pasillas are serious, Mexico doesn't have a death penalty and tends to have shorter sentences for serious crimes than those in the United States (in part, simply as a function of the inability of the state to pay for long terms).

Unlike so much of the crime in Mexico, this doesn't obvious appear to be drug cartel related, although he could have gone vicious under the encouragement of a cartel as some sort of enforcer.  More likely, he simply has some sort of mental health problem and had a break down - like so many mass shooters, but with a smaller death count, since he had a machete rather than a gun.  Indeed, given so the many of the people who go on murderous rages like Pasillas either commit suicide, are justifiably killed by law enforcement or someone acting in self-defense (or to defend others), or are caught and spend the rest of their lives in prison, we know very little about what someone with a profile like that would be like when returned to the general public.  Is it a passing thing that is different in kind from the psychological profile of someone headed for a life of crime, in much the same way that most people who have failed suicide attempts don't go on to commit suicide later when deinstitutionalized, or are people who go on these sprees more like psychopaths?

Derick Lamar Williams-Berrien has committed three bank robberies in the less than a year that he hasn't been in prison since he turned eighteen years old.
Derick Lamar Williams-Berrien served three years for two bank robberies, got out of prison and within two months robbed another bank and led police on a chase that ended when he was shot.
On Monday, a federal judge in Denver gave him more than five years for the latest robbery and an additional 18 months to be served consecutively for committing the crime while he was supposed to be toeing the line on supervisory release.
"When you are on supervised release for bank robbery and then come out and in two months rob another bank .... in some ways it is like spitting in the court's face. It can't be tolerated," said U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore [who] sentenced Williams-Berrien, 22, to 63 months for robbing a U.S. Bank branch near East Cornell Avenue and Peoria Street in Aurora in early May.
From the Denver Post.

There is every reason to believe that each of these young men had prior juvenile records - criminal conduct of this kind almost never comes out of nowhere without a long history of delinquency as a juvenile from at least late elementary school age, but we don't know for sure.

Our system of justice is oriented towards leniency towards juveniles.  But, statistically, the younger you have your first serious office and the younger you are at the time you commit a crime, the greater the risk you pose of re-offending.  The odds are overwhelmingly against Williams-Berrien never being convicted of another crime once he is released from prison in his late 20s.  From a utilitarian recidivism prevention perspective, we'd be better off if both men were in prison until they "aged out" of the peak crime commission risk age, perhaps sometime in their late thirties.

Simply put, a huge part of the impact that incarceration has on crime is that it takes young men with a history of criminal activity at the ages where they are most likely to commit crimes out of society.  Blue collar crime is a young man's game.

Also, the Williams-Berrien case illustrates the perils of taking someone who has proven himself to be incapable as functioning as a law abiding independent adult directly into society as an independent adult responsible for finding himself work and renting an apartment when his only real adult experiences are as a prison inmate.

Why do we expect and allow a 22 years old who has spent the last three years in prison for bank robbery to manage adult life with less structure and more responsibility than a typical senior in college?

The college student, unlike the newly released inmate, has probably behaved in a exemplary fashion all his life.  He almost surely has above average intelligence, while the inmate was probably either a high school dropout or did poorly in school.  But, the college student may still live in a dorm and eat in dining halls at his parent's expense, often doesn't have to shop for groceries, often doesn't have to find an apartment for himself that he can pay for from his own current earnings, faces few consequences for showing up hung over or late to class or doing inferior quality work, has few people relying on him for anything, and has half a dozen professors, and more RAs, tutors, counselors, student health services employees, student life employees, club officers, and other college administrators devoted to smoothing over every bump in the road that he may encounter.

Even "supervised release" is probably too dramatic a step directly from prison in a large share of all cases.  Too large a share of all crimes are committed by entirely predictable perpetrators.  Public policy isn't by any means a science, but criminology and other social science and engineering disciplines are particular suited to heading off predictable tragedies.

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