- Written by Marcel Gemme C.C.D.C
Percentage of Crime Attributed to Alcohol and Drug Abuse
The brief review of information and theory about the relation of drugs and alcohol to crime suggests several conclusions. First, both theory and evidence support attribution of a material proportion of income-generating property crimes to narcotic abuse. A similar conclusion can be made about the involvement of alcohol with violent crimes. Whereas there is substantial evidence relating narcotics with violent crime and alcohol with property crime, the theoretical and evidentiary foundations for developing quantitative estimates of these relationships are not strong. Consequently, as for the prior main cost researches on alcohol and drug abuse, the objective has been to select plausible attribution factors.
The attribution factors utilized in this research for the drugs and crime relationship are based on interviews with inmates in prisons and jails. For the alcohol and crime association, this research has adopted the general approach of Cruze et al. (1981), which attributes about one-half of the violent crimes in which the perpetrator had been drinking alcohol and one-tenth of the property crimes. Narcotic-defined crimes (e.g., dealing, trafficking, and possession) and alcohol-defined crimes (e.g., driving under the influence, public drunkenness, and liquor law violations) are attributed at 100 percent.
The rationale for utilizing the Cruze et al. approach to develop attribution factors has principally been one of the default. There has been more information collected about the involvement of alcohol and narcotics in crime (studies of association) since 1981. Recent researches theorize about causality, but there is an absence of empirical researches suggesting major changes in causality factors. The interested reader should see recent important reviews prepared for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and alcoholism (Alcohol Health & Research World 17 (2), 1993; Martin 1993; and the U.S. Department of Justice 1992a) that have re-examined the information regarding these issues. This research elects to make use of the new information on relation but to retain the prior approach to translating those data into attribution factors.
Approximately, 30 percent of prisoners incarcerated for robbery, burglary, and larceny indicated that they committed the crime for which they were incarcerated in order to get money for drugs. About 2 to 5 percent of those incarcerated for violent violations made the same attribution. Nonetheless, the new attribution factor of 15.8 percent for narcotics and homicide has been drawn from detailed information about the nature of murder circumstances, and the relationship of offenders and victims compiled by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (U.S. Department of Justice 1994b). Homicides, in which narcotics are explicitly listed as a factor, plus "juvenile gang" and "gangland" killings, represented 15.8 percent of murders for which circumstances could be identified. This percentage is applied to all homicides, even though the rate may be too low because it is likely that a higher proportion of homicides with unknown circumstances might have also involved drug dealing and trafficking.
The narcotic attribution factors are somewhat, but not significantly, different from the estimates that have been utilized since Cruze et al. (1981). Those approximations made no attribution for narcotic-related violence (even though a factor was included in Harwood et al. 1984). The factors for predatory and consensual crimes were also drawn from self-reported narcotic consumption by prison inmates. It was believed that all daily heroin users were drug-motivated and that 20 percent of daily users of other substances were so motivated.
Alcohol attribution factors are very alike to those developed by Cruze et al. (1981). The methodology utilized is the same; nonetheless, current information has been obtained from the 1991 Survey of Prison Inmates (U.S. Department of Justice 1994e) to replace data originally obtained from the 1974 survey. Again, the approach is to attribute to alcohol approximately 50 percent of violent crimes where the offender had been drinking (a total of about 30 percent of homicides and assaults and 22.5 percent of sexual assaults). 10% of property crimes where the offender had been drinking are attributed, which is about 3 to 4 percent of all such crimes. It can be observed that alcohol attribution factors - based on inmates-reported rates of alcohol use by perpetrators - have fallen somewhat from the early 1970s. The factor for robbery fell from 3.9 to 3.4 percent (signifying that 39 percent of robbery prisoners were drinking at the time of their crime in the early 1970s, compared with 34 percent of inmates in 1991). Somewhat more important decreases in rates - by about one-fourth - happened for burglary, larceny, and auto theft between the early 1970s and 1991.
Note that similar causal factors that are applied to costs of offenders are applied to costs of victims. This might introduce an unknown direction and quantity of bias. In the absence of information to the opposite, estimates reported in this study reflect the assumption that offenders in alcohol and drug-related crimes are neither more nor less likely to be apprehended, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated (or put on probation) than are offenders in crimes that are unrelated to alcohol or drugs.