Does crime actually pay after all?
According to some recent studies, not only does crime pay, it pays better than legal work for some people.
Two recent studies examined criminal income, surveying thousands of people across the country who had committed felonies. One was conducted through the Pathways to Desistance Study and another through the National Supported Work Demonstration Project.
They found out that people reported earning from $900 to more than $1,400 a week in illegal activities, far more than the same people could hope to earn at traditional, legal jobs.
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Among their conclusions:
▪ Most criminal income came from the drug trade, for 83 percent of Pathways respondents and 55 percent of NSW respondents. Other income-generating crime included robbery, burglary, shoplifting, car theft, illegal use of credit cards and checks and more, but were far less common than selling illicit drugs.
▪ The more involved they are in the drug trade, the higher the income. About 55 percent of NSW respondents sold drugs, and earned an average $914 a week. But more than 80 percent of Pathways respondents participated in the drug trade, and reported income averaging $1,470 a week.
▪ Many are high school dropouts. About 44 percent of Pathways respondents and 67 percent of NSW respondents had never completed high school. They reported working as little as 60 hours in nine months at legal, traditional jobs.
▪ In fact, the more legal work they did, the less money they earned. Both studies showed that for every dollar they earned legally, there was a 7 percent reduction in earnings from crime.
▪ And believe it or not, that’s taxable income. It was not immediately apparent how many of the respondents actually reported their criminal income to the IRS, but the federal government classifies it as taxable. Of course, people who make a living through crime generally are not the types of people who are truthful on their tax returns.
▪ As of July 2017, approximately 81,049 people were incarcerated in federal prison on drug offenses, or 46.3 percent of the prison population. By comparison, burglary and other property offenses are about 4.7 percent; robbery is 3.8 percent; and violent crimes such as homicide, assault or sexual assault are 3.2 to 9 percent respectively.
▪ And shocking few people, it turns out that most crime is economic: Almost 90 percent of the serious offenses reported in the U.S. concern money.
Other Pathways research focused on juveniles, and found that longer incarceration did not reduce the likelihood that the young person would commit more crime — in fact, it can actually increase it. It concluded that young people who commit serious offenses are not necessarily on track for criminal careers as adults. But the best ways to keep them from future crime, according to the studies, is substance abuse treatment and greater stability in living arrangements, work and school attendance, rather than longer sentences behind bars.