In response to our recent column about Terry Wayne Davis, the 44-year-old Illinois man who will either be tried or committed for allegedly having sex on multiple occasions with his five-month-old female Rottweiler puppy, and who had previously been convicted of sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl, one of our readers and correspondents poses an important set of questions. Essentially, Taylor UK14 begins with our premise that the only reasonably reliable predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and then goes on to wonder what can or should be done when that behavior is recognized.
In other words, can an examination of past violence prevent future violence?
As you might suspect, there is no easy answer.
Here is Taylor’s query:
This point comes up often in my Crim classes. Is there a better/feasible way to do something about offenders who are going to be more dangerous in the future? I know it isn’t an exact science, but I know you have listed numerous examples in your books of two people committing similar crimes, but one of those crimes is a much more serious predictor of future violence. Is it a matter of educating investigators and members of the legal system how to spot the difference? Or will there need to be a fundamental shift in the judicial process (sentencing in particular)?
I would imagine that even if an investigator recognized the signs of future sexual crimes, for example, he wouldn’t have the time or resources to do much about it, other than considering that offender if they are looking for an UNSUB in a future case.
It seems to me that maybe the best reform in this area may be to revamp the probation system. I know PO’s have way to many parolees and not nearly enough time or resources to deal with them all in depth so maybe this is where the prioritisation of offenders based on high-risk elements of past crimes would make the most sense. Do you think that would be beneficial or even attainable?
Well, Taylor, the simple answer is: All of the Above.
To begin with, we would say that education should be a priority for every level of the judicial system. Parole decisions, for example, should be based on careful evaluation by experts, not merely on self-reporting by the inmate and good behavior credits, which are relatively meaningless for many types of violent offenders. One of the biggest problems with probation and parole boards is that they don’t always know the specifics of the crime that put the offender in prison. But for an investigative expert who knows how to interpret the behavior in a rape case, for example, what the offender did and said during the crime will offer a solid base from which to make a determination. Combined with other factors, we can then be more confident of whether or not the inmate would pose a likely threat if released.
Unfortunately, Taylor’s other premise is also correct: Resources are stretched thin across the board and everyone has a greater caseload than he or she can handle effectively. So the system will never be perfect.
But all in all, the more and better educated each member of the system is, the better the overall result. If a teacher can recognize alarming signs in a young boy and psychological resources are available to try to turn him around, that is the best possible outcome. If it goes on to the next step, where a crime is committed, those involved with that part of the system have to understand what the crime represents in terms of long-term violent potential.
It is like when we’re asked if the best answer to lowering crime rates is: more pre-school programs like Head Start; smaller elementary school classes where teachers can give more individual attention; more concentration on home life and stability in poor families and neighborhoods; lowering teen pregnancy rates and discouraging absentee fathers; more job programs; more police presence in neighborhoods; combatting gang activities; more effective sentencing; or stricter parole standards; our answer is always the same: