Do more than 50% of convicted murderers in the US have a prior felony conviction?

Thursday, July 22, 2021
By Jacob Alabab-Moser

According to Justice Bureau statistics, in the years 1990 to 2002, 38% of convicted murderers had at least one prior felony conviction. This number rose to 40% in 2009, the latest available data year. When factoring in non-felony convictions, 53% of convicted murderers had a prior conviction between 1990 and 2002, while 48% had a prior conviction in 2009.

The Justice Department’s research arm reported in 2016 that imprisoning convicted criminals “isn’t a very effective way to deter crime” and may actually “have the opposite effect,” with “inmates learning more effective crime strategies from each other” and becoming “desensitized...to the threat of future imprisonment.” It also found that “increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter crime” given that “criminals know little about the sanctions for specific crimes.” Instead, it cited research that “the certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent than the punishment.”

This fact brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.
US Bureau of Justice Statistics Felony defendants in large urban counties, 2009
Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice Five things about deterrence
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