BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Crime and Justice in the United States
and in England and Wales, 1981-96

Convictions per 1,000 offenders


Murder conviction:  offenders

Rape convictions:  offenders

Robbery convictions:  offenders

Assault convictions:  offenders

Burglary convictions:  offenders

Motor vehicle theft convictions: offenders

To the chart data

Notes on figures 25-30: Conviction data compiled by courts nationwide (courts are identified in Notes on figures 19-24) were used in estimates of the number of convictions per 1,000 alleged offenders. For all crimes except murder and rape, the number of convictions per 1,000 alleged offenders was obtained by dividing the number of juveniles and adults convicted of the specified crime during the year (based on court conviction data) by the number of persons committing the crime (and therefore at risk of being convicted) that year (based on estimates from crime victim surveys, adjusted to include crimes -- such as those against persons under 12 in the United States and under 16 in England -- outside the scope of the surveys). The number of persons at risk of conviction is not the same as the number of survey crimes, because each crime can be committed by more than one person. The number of persons at risk of being convicted was estimated by multiplying the number of survey crimes by the average number of offenders per offense. For murder and rape, the number of convictions per 1,000 alleged offenders was obtained by dividing the number of juveniles and adults convicted of murder or rape in the year (based on court conviction data) by the police-recorded number that year of juveniles and adults "allegedly" committing murder (alleged number of murderers = number of police-recorded murders multiplied by the average number of murderers per murder according to police data) or rape (alleged number of rapists = number of police-recorded rapes multiplied by the average number of rapists per rape). More details on the conviction data for the graphics is given in Notes on figures 19-24. Crime definitions for the graphics are given in Notes on figures 5-10.

Is a person committing a crime in the United States more likely or less likely to be caught and convicted than one committing a crime in England?

According to latest conviction figures (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England) --

  • with the exception of murder, a person committing a crime in the United States is more likely to be caught and convicted than one committing crime in England (including Wales).

The number of persons convicted in 1994 of --

  • murder for every 1,000 alleged murderers was 487 in the United States and 555 in England, indicating that a murderer's risk of conviction is slightly greater in England than in the United States (figure 25)
  • rape for every 1,000 alleged rapists was 188 in the United States and 100 in England, indicating that a rapist's risk of conviction in the United States is nearly double that in England (figure 26)
  • robbery for every 1,000 alleged robbers was 22 in the United States and 6 in England, indicating that a robber's risk of conviction in the United States is nearly four times that in England (figure 27)
  • assault for every 1,000 alleged assaulters was 25 in the United States and 14 in England, indicating that an assaulter's risk of conviction in the United States is nearly double that in England (figure 28)
  • burglary for every 1,000 alleged burglars was 14 in the United States and 6 in England, indicating that a burglar's risk of conviction in the United States is more than double that in England (figure 29)
  • motor vehicle theft for every 1,000 alleged vehicle thieves was 18 in the United States and 12 in England, indicating that a vehicle thief's risk of conviction is 50% greater in the United States than in England (figure 30).

Is an offender's risk of being caught and convicted rising or falling in each country?

  • An offender's risk of being caught and convicted is rising in the United States but falling in England.

    From 1981 to the latest year of conviction data (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the number of persons convicted of --

    • murder per 1,000 alleged murderers has risen 43% in the United States (340 in 1981 rising to 487 in 1994) but fallen 12% in England (631 in 1981 falling to 555 in 1995) (figure 25)
    • rape per 1,000 alleged rapists has risen 94% in the United States (97 in 1981 rising to 188 in 1994) but fallen 63% in England (272 in 1981 falling to 100 in 1995) (figure 26)
    • robbery per 1,000 alleged robbers has risen 29% in the United States (17 in 1981 rising to 22 in 1994) but fallen 40% in England (10 in 1981 falling to 6 in 1995) (figure 27)
    • assault per 1,000 alleged assaulters has nearly tripled in the United States (9 in 1981 rising to 25 in 1994) but fallen 66% in England (41 in 1981 falling to 14 in 1995) (figure 28)
    • burglary per 1,000 alleged burglars has risen 40% in the United States (10 in 1981 rising to 14 in 1994) but fallen 78% in England (27 in 1981 falling to 6 in 1995) (figure 29)
    • motor vehicle theft per 1,000 alleged vehicle thieves has more than doubled in the United States (7 in 1981 rising to 18 in 1994) but fallen 77% in England (53 in 1981 falling to 12 in 1995) (figure 30).

    Are persons committing a crime unlikely to be caught and convicted in both countries?

    In both countries, persons committing a crime are unlikely to be caught and convicted. The major exception is murder.

    According to latest statistics (derived from figures 25-30 covering 1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the likelihood of conviction was about --

    • 50% for murder in both countries
    • 20% for rape in the United States and 10% in England
    • 2% for robbery in the United States and less than 1% in England
    • 2% for assault in the United States and 1% in England
    • 1% for burglary in the United States and less than 1% in England
    • 2% for motor vehicle theft in the United States and 1% in England.

    However, these estimates must be interpreted cautiously. For example, the rape conviction likelihood is inflated because it is based on the number of convictions divided not by the total number of rapes but by just the number recorded by police.

    In other respects, all of these estimates (including rape) are conservative because, to be precise, the data used to calculate them estimate the likelihood of an offense leading to conviction, not the likelihood of an offender being convicted sooner or later. To estimate the likelihood of an offender being convicted, the number of different persons convicted is divided by the number of different persons committing the crime. But in available data, per- sons who are convicted more than once or who commit crime more than once during the year are counted over and over again.

    Such overcounting is particularly prevalent in the data on the number of persons committing crime because the typical offender commits more than one crime over the course of a year (the typical violent offender commits from 2 to 4 violent crimes per year and the typical property offender commits from 5 to 10 per year according to Blumstein and others, 1986, page 4).

    Some adjustment can be made for their overcounting. For example, if the typical robber in the United States commits 4 robberies per year, the likelihood that a person committing robbery will be convicted of robbery during the year is nearly 8%, not 2%.

    At first glance that might seem like a small difference but a 1 in 12 chance of conviction (the equivalent of 8%) is considerably greater than a 1 in 50 chance (the equivalent of 2%). Furthermore it should be stressed that, despite the adjustment, the 8% is still conservative because it is the probability that a robber will be convicted just of robbery during the year. Obviously the likelihood that a robber will be convicted of robbery or some other offense during the year is greater than just the probability that he will be convicted of robbery. How much greater is not known but for two reasons it is probably substantial.

    One reason has to do with the practice, common both in England and the United States, of downgrading offenses. Because of downgrading, when persons are convicted of a crime, the crime they are convicted of is often less serious than the one for which they were originally arrested and charged (in the United States, downgrading occurs in 40% of violent crime convictions and 25% of nonviolent convictions according to Reaves, 1998, tables 26 and 27).

    The other reason is related to the fact that persons who commit a crime typically commit more than one a year. Importantly the crimes they commit typically differ from one another. For example, a man committing a robbery one day may commit a burglary the next. While he might not be caught for the robbery, he might be caught and convicted for the burglary. Consequently his chance of conviction is greater than just the chance he takes of being convicted of the robbery.

    Over periods longer than a year, the probability of an offender being convicted can be quite high. For example, Farrington (1989, pages 339-423) found that 58% of English males who admitted to committing burglary were eventually caught and convicted of burglary at least once before reaching age 33.

    Chart data - in spreadsheets
    Figure 25 Figure 26 Figure 27
    Murder Rape Robbery
    Year United States England United States England United States England
    1981 340 631 97 272 17 10
    1982
    1983 367 643 104 213 18 10
    1984
    1985
    1986 451 162 24
    1987 571 156 10
    1988 427 158 20
    1989
    1990 455 165 23
    1991 562 121 10
    1992 495 189 24
    1993 632 92 8
    1994 487 188 22
    1995 555 100 6
    Figure 28 Figure 29 Figure 30
    Assault Burglary Motor vehicle theft

    Year United States England United States England United States England
    1981 9 41 10 27 7 53
    1982
    1983 13 50 13 23 12 44
    1984
    1985
    1986 18 12 18
    1987 35 14 27
    1988 16 11 17
    1989
    1990 25 14 19
    1991 31 10 18
    1992 25 15 20
    1993 23 7 12
    1994 25 14 18
    1995 14 6 12
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