Catching the Really Bad Guys: An Assessment of the Efficacy of the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Elsevier, Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 42, Issue 4, July–August 2014, Pages 338 - 346
J.C. Barnes


History shows that one of the most important institutions to a society is its criminal justice system. The current study offers an analysis of the criminal justice system’s effectiveness in identifying, apprehending, convicting, and punishing high-level/persistent offenders.


Data were drawn from all four waves of the Add Health study. Survey-corrected univariate statistics and logistic regression models were estimated to provide population parameter estimates of the frequency of arrest and punishment for a group of persistent offenders compared to non-persistent offenders.


Findings indicated persistent offenders (as identified by self-reported crime) were much   more likely to be arrested (63% vs. 26%), accounted for more arrests (View the MathML source = 1.71 vs. View the MathML source = .53), were more likely to be convicted (39% vs. 11%), were more likely to be placed on probation (38% vs. 12%), and were more likely to be sent to jail (43% vs. 13%) compared to non-persistent offenders. These differences remained when levels of psychopathy, age, race, and sex were controlled in the logistic regression models.


These findings suggest the criminal justice system does a good job of identifying and punishing offenders who break the law more frequently.