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Cook PJ, Ludwig J, Braga AA. Criminal Records of Homicide Offenders. JAMA. 2005;294(5):598–601. doi:10.1001/jama.294.5.598
Author Affiliations: Department of Public Policy
Studies, Duke University, Durham, NC (Dr Cook); Georgetown University, Washington,
DC (Dr Ludwig); and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University,
Cambridge, Mass (Dr Braga).
Context Homicide prevention strategies can be either targeted toward high-risk
groups or addressed to the population at large. One high-risk group of particular
interest is adults with a criminal record. But the prevalence of a criminal
record among homicide offenders has not been reliably quantified, nor has
the prevalence of criminal record in the general population.
Objective To determine what portion of the homicide problem would be addressed
by interventions linked to arrest or conviction.
Design, Setting, and Participants A case-control analysis was performed using a comprehensive data set
of all arrests and felony convictions in Illinois for 1990-2001. Cases were
defined as Illinois residents aged 18 to 64 years who were arrested for homicide
in 2001. Controls were all other Illinois residents aged 18 to 64 years in
2001. Illinois criminal and juvenile record information for cases and controls
was compiled for 1990-2000. Five definitions of previous record were considered
(arrest, arrest for a violent crime, 5 or more arrests with at least 1 for
a violent crime, felony conviction, and violent-felony conviction), each measured
for 1990-2000 and for 1996-2000.
Main Outcome Measure The population-attributable risk: the portion of homicide offenses that
would be eliminated by a hypothetical intervention that reduced the offending
risk of individuals with a record to the offending risk of those who lack
Results For 1990-2000, 42.6% of 884 cases had at least 1 felony conviction compared
with 3.9% of nearly 7.9 million controls, for a population-attributable risk
of 40.3% (95% CI, 37.0%-43.8%); among cases, 71.6% had experienced any arrest
from 1990-2000 compared with 18.2% of controls, for a population-attributable
risk of 65.3% (95% CI, 61.6%-68.8%). For 1996-2000, the population-attributable
risk among individuals with a felony conviction or any arrest was 31.0% (95%
CI, 27.9%-34.2%) and 58.5% (95% CI, 54.9%-62.1%), respectively.
Conclusions Interventions after arrest or conviction, such as supervised release,
imprisonment, correctional programs, or bans on firearm possession, are targeted
toward a group that has relatively high incidence of lethal violence, but
they leave a large portion of the problem untouched.
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