Vital Signs

Age and Criminality

Although crime has become a major social problem, we could vanquish it without curtailing the liberties of law-abiding citizens, without mistreating suspects or convicts, and without added cost. The only major obstacle is the inertia of legislators.

Over half of the convicts now in prison are younger than 29 years old. Only six percent are older than 45. These uncontested data lead, or should lead, to the following policy: anyone convicted for the third time of a nontrivial offense, or convicted for the second time of a violent crime, should be kept in prison until he is 45 years of age. Regardless of age, he also should be imprisoned for no fewer than five years (more if the gravity of his crime demands it).

Statistics and common sense tell us that a defendant, when convicted a third time, usually has committed more than three crimes. After all, offenders are unlikely to be caught and convicted each time they violate the law. Most commit many crimes before landing in jail. In any case, a third conviction confirms that the defendant is bent on crime as a career and is not discouraged by convictions and penalizations. A second conviction for an act of unlawful violence indicates at the least that the defendant remains dangerous despite previous punishment. However, according to the statistics, at age 45 most convicts give up criminal activities. They are rehabilitated by their years. It makes good sense, therefore, for those...

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