Sunday, January 15, 2006

gray crime

Contrary to some highly sensationalized and widely publicized reports, there has been no outbreak of a crime wave among the elderly in recent years. The reason for the outburst of publicity about gray crime appears to be that people interested in hyping such stories have taken miniscule changes in elderly crime, calculated percentage increases, and then distorted their meaning to gain media attention. The table below presents information for a typical set of years that shows one possible source of distorted reports about "gray crime." If one compares these three columns, one can see that various kinds of calculations could supply copy for almost any sort of story one might wish to promote. Sex offenses, for example, increased 100% -- they doubled-over this period. Yet, sex offenses remain a miniscule part of elderly criminal behavior (1.6 percent of elderly personal offenses at their highest point), and the higher percentage may reflect only the drop in the proportion of other kinds of crime (gambling decreased by nearly 100%) rather than an actual growth in the number of sex offenses. The second table shows that sex offenses (prostitution and commercial vice) among the elderly are far below the rate for other ages.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the elderly commit less than 1 percent of all crimes, a far smaller proportion than might be expected considering that they make up 12 percent or more of the population. The rate of total arrests is only four per 1,000 population at age 65 , but 78 from ages 40-44, and 167 at 25-29. A sampling of data from a recent FBI report on crime in the United States shows the comparatively low rate of crime among the older American population.
Atchley, R. C. Social Forces and Aging, 4th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1985.
Schick, F. L., ed. Statistical Handbook on Aging Americans. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1986.
U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 1985. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986.

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