Iowa State sociology professor writes book about career criminals

AMES, Iowa -- Five percent of the United States population will commit more than half of all crimes. They are repeat offenders or career criminals.

Career criminals are typically unemployed, homeless with few family ties, middle aged (40 to 50 years old), with alcohol or drug problems. Matt DeLisi, assistant professor of sociology at Iowa State University, notes in his new book, "Career Criminals in Society," that there is little hope for rehabilitation of career criminals.

"Career criminals are versatile and tend to unpredictably commit a mix of violent, property, drug and other crimes," DeLisi said. "They also cut across racial, economic and cultural backgrounds. Those criminals account for the preponderance of the nation's violent crimes."

For example, DeLisi said, if there is a 55-year-old individual consistently committing crimes, society must address the issue -- preferably by retributive means (punishment).

On the other hand, his research also shows that society should devote greater resources to prevention programs for children and adolescents.

"Programs for adolescent offenders pay huge dividends later on," DeLisi said. "With little upfront investment, society can reduce the number of repeat offenders by precluding their antisocial development."

A study by DeLisi of 500 "frequent offenders" at a county jail in Boulder, Colo., found that some inmates had been arrested in an average of four states. One individual had an arrest record in 25 states.

"There was a file drawer of frequent offenders," he said. "Most had at least 30 arrests, with some having as many as 200 arrests in their lifetimes. Most crimes were either alcohol or drug violations, shoplifting charges or vagrancy."

Crime, fear and related consequences of crime would decrease if resources were redirected to stem future career criminals early in life when rehabilitation has its greatest impact, DeLisi said.