No. IV (1969)

Persistent recidivits with early and late criminal records

Published 1969-12-23


  • crime,
  • recidivism,
  • imprisonment,
  • juvenile,
  • prison,
  • alcoholism,
  • social maladjustment,
  • aggression

How to Cite

Ostrihanska, Z. (1969). Persistent recidivits with early and late criminal records. Archives of Criminology, (IV), 59–104.


This part of the work presents an analysis of the process of social degradation regarding prisoners, persistent recidivists (convicted not less than four times and imprisoned for at least the fourth time), aged between 26 and 35. The investigations embraced 220 prisoners whose delinquency was closely examined. This work however takes particular note of those, who relatively late (only after 21) had their first trial in the Court of Justice. First of all, it was important to determine whether they were less socially maladjusted in their childhood than the recidivists whose trials began earlier (between 17 and 20), what were the origins of their delinquency and what factors influenced the etiology of their recidivism.

Those recidivists whose first trials began at 21 or later constitute a relatively small group of 29,6%, among the 220 recidivists investigated. The remaining recidivists of 26-35 years of age had their first trials earlier.

1. On the basis of the interviews and after a check in Juvenile Courts it has been established that among the late recidivists (convicted for the first time at the age of 21 at least) only about one third (30,7%) were those who committed offences (thefts as a rule) as juveniles (under 17). Among the early recidivists (convicted for the first time at the age of 17-20) such subjects constituted 60,0%.

In general, among the late recidivists, those who stole or committed other offences as juveniles constituted 33,8% while among the early recidivists such subjects constituted as many as 65,1%. These figures show that more of the early recidivists than of the latę recidivists committed offences (thefts as a rule) as juveniles.

There is a statistically significant correlation between the perpetration of offences by the subjects when they were juveniles and the early beginning of their trials after they were 17 (dependence at the level of significance 0,001).

Thefts committed by the late recidivists in their juvenility were in general less frequent and less serious than those committed at that period by the early recidivists.

Only 43,8% of the late recidivists of whom it was possible to obtain some data relating to the places of thefts they had committed as juveniles, were stealing outside their homes and schools. Among the early recidivists such persons constitute as many as 80%. 24,5% of the early recidivists were tried at least twice in Juvenile Courts while among the late recidivists such persons constituted merely 6,1%.

The division of the subjects into two groups according to the age at which they were first tried after they were 17 is then justified by the ascertainments of the actual beginnings of their delinquency when they were juveniles.

Among the late recidivists, the subjects who started committing offences as juveniles and continued to do so until their first trial when they were at least 21, constitute only 13,8%. The remaining late recidivists, who committed offences as juveniles (20%), did so only sporadically or altogether stopped to commit them but recommenced in connection with their later abuse of alcohol.

2. The fact that despite a late, in general, beginning of their actual delinquency the late recidivists were repeatedly convicted and repeatedly imprisoned, may be connected with the circumstance that the subjects who were socially maladjusted already as juveniles constituted two thirds of the total. However, the late recidivists manifested social maladjustment in their juvenility less often than early recidivists, among whom as many as 90,8% were socially maladjusted at that time. (Social maladjustment was established in 83% of cases of the total of the investigated persistent recidivists).

These late recidivists who did not display any symptoms of social maladjustment in their juvenility began, in general, to commit offences in connection with their abuse of alcohol, and their entire delinquency as adults is connected with alcoholism: they commit chiefly aggressive offences in the state of inebriety, also thefts, the proceeds of which are immediately spent on alcohol.

3. The childhood of the subjects was characterized by considerable disturbances of their study at school. Only 43,6% of the investigated (47,7% of the late recidivists and 42,5% of the early recidivists) finished the 7-grade elementary school. The education of the investigated recidivists is lower than that of the total of prisoners.

16,5% of the subjects finished three grades, at most. Those who did not reach the sixth grade of the elementary school constitute 41,4% of the total of recidivists (40,0% among the late recidivists and 42,5% among the early recidivists). Similar gaps in elementary education have also been established through investigations on juvenile recidivists, previously conducted by the Department of Criminology. It has been established that the subjects did not finish the elementary school on account of their having been brought up in a negative family environment, lower of their intelligence, social maladjustment in their juvenile years and war-time difficulties of some part of the subjects. About two thirds of the subjects repeated some grades.

Truancy was systematically practised by 54,6%, of the investigated (40,4% of the late recidivists and 60,4% of the early recidivists). In 60% of cases the subjects stated that teachers had often complained of their bad behaviour at school. About half of the subjects declared that they had considerable difficulties at school.

50,6% of the subjects drank liquor as juveniles at least once a month or wine at least once a week. (36,5% of the late recidivists and 57,0% of the early recidivists).

41,1% of the subjects ran away from home (21,5% of the late recidivists and 49% of the early recidivists).

The subjects (60,0%) often kept company, as adolescents, with friends who committed thefts (38,6% of the late recidivists and as many as 68% of the early recidivists).

In this way, the late recidivists less often than the early recidivists displayed as adolescents particular symptoms of social maladjustment.

4. The subjects' family environments revealed in majority of cases a syndrome of factors which were negative from thę educational point of view. Family environments, evaluated negatively because of alcoholism in the family, lack of systematic work of the father or delinquency, constituted no less than 60,3% (50% among late recidivists and 64,4% among early recidivists).

Systematic abuse of alcohol by fathers was often (52,4%) established in the families of the investigated (46% of the fathers of the late recidivists and 61,4% of the fathers of the early recidivists). The percentage of fathers who systematically abused of alcohol even before birth of the investigated is also considerable and amounts to 43%. (35% of the late recidivists and 48,3%, of the early recidivists). Alcoholism was established in a fairly considerable percentage of families of parents of the investigated, namely their fathers or brothers (55,6%).

The late recidivists were for the most part brought up in only one educational environment, i.e. they had only one home and were under constant care of at least' one and the same person (73,8% of the late recidivists). During the childhood of the early recidivists, changes of their educational environments were established more often (45,5% of cases). Nearly one third of the early recidivists were brought up in at least three educational environments while such frequent changes of educational environments regarding the late recidivists were established in only 13% of cases.

Family homes of the late recidivists were educationally more advantageous than those of the early recidivists. Educationally negative factors such as alcoholism or delinquency of fathers were established less often. Similarly, changes of educational environments during their childhood were less frequent.

5. The percentage of those subjects who came from large families was considerable: 36,4% of the investigated had three or more brothers or sisters. Brothers and sisters of the investigated either displayed similar lacks in elementary education but some of them were on a much higher educational level. In 36,4% of cases the investigated had brothers or sisters who did not finish elementary school. As many as 28,5% of the investigated had somęone in the family who graduated from a vocational school. Higher education appeared in families of the investigated in 7,2% of cases. In many families there were brothers without any professional qualifications whatever (53,7 % of cases).

It is significar that many persistent recidivists had brothers who displayed symptoms of social maladjustment' committed offencęs or were judicially convicted. Social maladjustment of at least one brother was established in two-thirds of cases, 44,7% of the investigated had someone in their families who committed unrevealed thefts or was tried by Juvenile Courts or Courts of Law for thefts and other offences.

Percentages of the late recidivists with socially maladjusted siblings did not differ from similar percentages of the early recidivists.

6. At the time of the investigations 41,8% of the investigated were bachelors, which constitutes a percentage twice higher than the established percentage of the total of men in Poland aged between 25 and 34. Bachelors appeared more often among the early recidivists (45,8%) than among the late recidivists (32,3%). However, most marriages contracted by the late recidivists were subsequently broken (54,5%). In the period preceding their arrest only 28,6% of the investigated stayed with their wives. 19,5% lived outside their family circle at that time.

Wives of the investigated often came from the ranks of socially maladjusted women. 28,8% of them were abusing of alcohol. 18% were convicted by Courts of Law. 8% of the wives of the late recidivists and 17,5% of the wives of the early recidivists were suspected to practice prostitution.

In two thirds of cases within the family backgrounds of the wives there could be found brothers or fathers who were abusing of alcohol.

A relatively good family life of the actually married recidivists was established only in 36,3%, of cases. In the remaining families there occurred constant quarrels and rows, mostly provoked by the investigated in the state of inebriety. It has been established, that as many as 57% of late recidivists and 52,9% of early recidivists were aggressive to their families in the state of inebriety. 46% of late recidivists and 31,6% of early recidivists took things and money from their homes and spent them on alcohol. 21,5% of the late recidivists and 10,3% of early recidivists were tried at least once for maltreating their families in state of inebriety.

The situation of children brought up in such families is certainly very unfavourable. 63% of late recidivists and 50% of early recidivists had children and relatively often they presented serious educational difficulties, had difficulties at school or displayed neurotic symptoms. Appearance of any of these symptoms was established in 58,6% of the families of the late recidivists in children over 7 and in 70% of the families of the early recidivists in children of the same age.

7. One of the most important questions which revealed itself at the examination of the social adjustment of the investigated during the period when they were over 17 was the course of their professional work and particularly the appearancę among them of individuals who either did not work at all or worked only by snatches.

Most of the investigated did not have any profession at all (56,1%), not even such, which could be acquired at a short course or at work. Only few of the investigated had professional qualifications acquired at vocational schools (8,2%-13,8% among the late recidivists and 6% among the early recidivists).

The late recidivists more often had a profession (55,4%) than the early recidivists (40,4%). Many late recidivists however, who had some professional qualifications had with time stopped working in that profession (58,4% already did not work in their profession at the time preceding their last arrest). Usually, it was due to a degradation caused by the abuse of alcohol.

Since the investigated recidivists were of different age and spent different periods of time in prison, it was ascertained, that it would be best to compare the duration of their respective work by means of percentages (the duration of work done in their life beginning at 17 - in relation to the whole period during which the investigated were at liberty and were able to work).

Already at the time when the investigated were 17 -20 a distinct difference in the duration of work of the early and the late recidivists has become manifest. Among the late recidivists, more frequent are cases of such subjects who at the age of 17 - 20 worked longer than half the time in which they were able to work while among the early recidivists, more frequent were cases of working less than half that time (statistical dependence significant on significance level 0,001).

Differences in the duration of work of the early and the late recidivists become evident also at the examination of the entire period of their life, beginning at 17. The investigated who worked more than half of the time in which they were able to work, constituted 30% of the total of the investigated recidivists (27% among early recidivists and nearly half of late recidivists). Only few recidivists worked longer than three-quarters of the time in which they were able to work (merely 11,5%). In this way, a considerable majority of the investigated recidivists worked only unsystematically or did not work at all. As many as 35% of the investigated worked only less than one-fourth of the time in which they were able to work. The irregular character of their work was due to their early social maladjustment. Those investigated who worked very little in their life were more often maladjusted as juveniles than those who worked for longer periods (dependence statistically significant on the significance level 0,001). Besides, in the origins of the subjects' attitude to work, the absence of vocational training, connected with the unfinished elementary school and the lowered intellectual level, constituted the essential element.

This lack of professional qualifications was an obstacle in getting a job of a certain social status. To simple, physical work, demanding considerable physical effort, the majority of the investigated had a decidedly negative attitude. Systematic abuse of alcohol was another factor which contributed to the irregular character of their work. For instance, according to the evidence given by their employers, the subjects often drank alcohol during working hours.

Only for 16,4% of the investigated their wages constituted their sole source of maintenance. However, the investigated whose sources of maintenance were exclusively legal (wages or help of the family) constituted 34,1%.

Living on various sorts of offences exclusively (i.e. besides thefts also other offences against property, cheating at hazardous gams, illegal trade, etc.) was established only with 17,7%, of the investigated; recidivists living exclusively on committing offences appeared more often among early recidivists 20,6%) than among late recidivists (10,7%). The percentage of persistent recidivists living only on thefts was merely 8,6% of the total.

The fact, that a relatively large percentage (36,8%) was supported, even partly, by parents or wives deserves consideration.

8. Among the investigated persistent recidivists an immense majority constitute men, who systematically abuse of alcohol (89,5%) whilst more than a half of the investigated (53,2%) are alcohol addicts. 50,6% of the investigated, already as juveniles, began drinking wine at least once a week or vodka at least once a month. 51,3% of the investigated drank at least a quarter-liter of vodka three times a week or more, before they were 21.

Similarly, the investigated persistent recidivists early displayed first symptoms of alcoholism (61% of recidivists, who were alcohol addicts displayed distinct symptoms of alcoholism already under 28).

A distinct abstinence syndrome was established in regard to 76% of alcoholic recidivists; it became evident already at the age of 27. The investigated who already suffered from alcoholic psychosis, delirium tremens for the most part, constitute among alcoholic recidivists a percentage as high as 21,4%. The average age of the subjects showing first symptoms of alcoholism is very young, much younger than that established in various investigations of alcohol addicts.

40% of the investigated alcohol addicts were treated at least once, usually under pressure of their families, in out-patients clinics, but very soon they interrupted the treatment and did not return to the clinic any more.

The long process of systematic drinking of alcoholic beverages beginning almost at the time of their juvenility doubtlessly strengthened the symptoms of social maladjustment and personality deviations displayed by persistent recidivists.

Data relating to the beginnings of the abuse of alcohol show that late recidivists began drinking alcoholic beverages later than early recidivists and they did it less often as juveniles (36,4% of late recidivists and 57,5% of early recidivists abused of alcohol as juveniles). However there is no difference in percentage of alcohol addicts among late recidivists and early recidivists. Regarding late recidivists the systematic abuse of alcohol plays, despite its later beginnings, a much more important role in the etiology of their delinquency than with the early recidivists.

In general, in case of early recidivists, perpetration of offences preceded their systematic drinking of alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, in case of late recidivists, systematic drinking of alcohol and subsequent alcoholism constitute factors of the greatest importance regarding the origins of their persistent recidivism.

It is fitting to mention, that considerable percentages of offenders systematically drinking alcoholic beverages in large quantities were already established by investigations previously conducted by the Department of Criminology, on juvenile and young recidivists (57% and 75%).

In this connection, the creation of special institutions for treatment of alcoholic offenders should be acknowledged as an urgent social demand.

9. Over 17, the delinquency of late recidivists is less serious than that of early recidivists. There are more perpetrators of small thefts among late recidivists who seldom steal objects of greater value. Also there are less perpetrators of robberies among late recidivists (20%) than among early recidivists (34,8%). Late recidivists represent an altogether different type of offender than early recidivists. There are less “professional” (24,6%) offenders among them while such offenders constitute as high a percentage as 44,6% among early recidivists. Offenders, committing thefts in connection with their alcoholism, appear more often among late recidivists as well as offenders committing almost exclusively offences of the so-called hooligan character: against persons or public officers (mostly the insulting or attacking of the policemen). The subjects belonging to those two groups constitute 53,8% of the late and only 24,4% of the early recidivists. The difference in the gravity of offences committed by late and early recidivists is made evident also by penalties which were imposed upon them. There are more investigated among late recidivists sentenced exclusively to less than two years of prison (50,7%), whilst among early recidivists they constitute merely 20%.

10. When discussing the problem of juvenile delinquency we cannot bypass the subjects' personality disorders dating in many of them as early as their childhood. These disorders are made evident by biographies of the investigated and by dimensions of their social maladjustment as well as by a characteristic structure of offences, among which prevail offences against property, relatively unimportant, while offences connected with aggression constitute a considerable percentage. They are also shown by the fact, that a relatively considerable percentage of the investigated recidivists stayed in prison longer than at liberty.

This work does not examine in detail problems of personality disorders (it will be the subject of a separate work). Nevertheless, certain matters should be touched upon.

It has been ascertained on the basis of interviews that in 18,3% of cases there existed a justified suspicion that the investigated had a brain injury at birth. Besides, it was often ascertained that the investigated displayed neurotic symptoms in their childhood (in 66,2% of cases), particularly enuresis (24% of the investigated) and stuttering (15%).

On the basis of the information supplied by the mothers and by the investigated themselves who confirmed that they had frequent fights at school and were pestering their siblings at home, it has been established that 44,9% were aggressive during their childhood. This aggressiveness had been found to be more frequent in cases of the early recidivists than in cases of the late recidivists. (The correlation between the early age at the first trial and the aggressiveness in childhood was statistically significant at the significance level 0.01).

The percentage of those subjects who had ever suffered from illnesses in the central nervous system or who had suffered concussion of the brain was relatively considerable and amounted to 28,6%. The psychiatric expert evidence found in the records of 76 investigated, contained diagnosis of encephalopathy in regard to 20% of recidivists.

In connection with the fact that many investigated were tried for committing aggressive offences, the problem of aggressiveness of persistent recidivists was given particular attention. In the first place those investigated were considered aggressive, whose behaviour was often aggressive (physical aggression) as well as those, who showed evident hostility to their environment. The investigated considered aggressive, constituted a considerable percentage (60%); moreover, 14,8% were aggressive only in the state of inebriety. Late recidivists were less often aggressive (45,1%) than early recidivists (66,4%).

50,3% of aggressive recidivists committed acts of self-aggression. The correIation between committing self-aggression and aggressiveness was statistically significant (on significance level 0,001).

It is remarkable that various acts of self-aggression were established with 43,2% of the investigated (49,7% of early recidivists and, 27,7% of late recidivists). As many as 34,1% of the total of the investigated recidivists committed self-aggression when they were at liberty.

Low professional qualifications of the investigated and non-graduation of the majority of them from elementary schools were partly connected with a relatively large percentage, in the investigated group, of men with a lowered level of intelligence.

44,1% of them, tested by Wechsler-Bellevue scale attained intelligence quotients below 91, while 17,1% were below 80. Examining these results it is necessary to take into consideration the fact, that the investigated group displayed a marked mental deterioration (the deterioration of over 20% was established in cases of 42,8% of the investigated). This may be connected with alcoholism of the investigated.


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