Nearly three of every four adult homicide victims in Washington, D.C., last year had an arrest history, reports the Washington Post. An analysis of court records shows some reasons why the capital has one of the nation’s highest homicide rates. The 248 killings in 2003 were far fewer than the homicide tolls of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but there is a resilient “criminal subculture” in the city, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told the Post. He said this group has grown so entrenched and well armed that it poses a risk to Washington’s attempts to renew its image and create a better future for its rougher neighborhoods. “It’s a huge problem,” he said. In homicide cases, said Ramsey, “it’s just not unusual to have people involved on both sides to have prior experience within our [criminal justice] system,” he said. “The fact is that if you are part of that criminal subculture, or just associated with it, that puts you more at risk.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, has conducted only one national study on the subject, in 1994. That study analyzed 8,063 homicides in the nation’s 75 largest counties during 1988. The study found that about 44 percent of homicide victims had arrest records.
In a study of Chicago, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority analyzed 20,716 slayings in Chicago between 1965 and 1995. It found that that about 57 percent of adult homicide victims had arrest records. “Most homicides start out as a dispute of some kind, and in the majority of them, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell who was going to be the victim when the altercation started,” said Carolyn Block, co-author of the study. “But the point of the research is to help save people’s lives, because an arrest, even for something minor, is an opportunity for intervention.”
In many cases, young men in Washington were killed weeks or months after judges allowed them to avoid incarceration or get out of jail early. After one teenager pleaded guilty to drug-sales charges last spring, a judge suspended prison time and released him. He was shot to death at 19 seven months later — a time when he would have been serving his sentence had it not been suspended.