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

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CHASS sociologist Margaret Zahn

CHASS sociologist Margaret Zahn

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.

By Matt Shipman, NC State News Services

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