By Ross Hager
Taylor House/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Based on studies of convicted killers in Pima County between 1991 and 1999, UA professor James Clarke has found that murder victims’ social statuses has an impact on the sentences convicted killers receive.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
New study finds childhood experience linked to violent crime
The social standing of murder victims has a direct impact on what kind of sentence convicted killers receive, according to the research of a UA professor.
James Clarke, a political science professor, studied the cases of 179 convicted killers whose cases were tried in Pima County between 1991 and 1999.
The most startling finding to come from the study was that 89 percent of the victims of death-row inmates were middle class, while 83 percent of the victims of nondeath-row inmates were poor or unskilled, Clarke said.
“Prosecutors and judges place less importance on lower class victims,” Clarke said. “The value of a victim’s life varies with his or her social standing.”
The criteria for the study were accessibility of the inmate’s files and the completeness of these files, and only those who had direct involvement in the crime were considered for the study, he said.
“We didn’t select people who were riding in the back of the car during a drive-by,” Clarke said.
Clarke used sources such as crime scene documents, spoken and written statements by the perpetrators, and psychological evaluations to conduct the study.
Of the 179 convicted killers in Pima County, 10 percent were sentenced to death, a figure Clarke said is twice as high as the rest of the state.
One similarity among nearly all of the convicted killers was their social background, something that Clarke believes factors into all violent crime cases. Because social behaviors stem from early childhood, efforts to reduce violent crime should focus more on family life, he said.
“Adult violence is so clearly associated with childhood experiences,” Clarke said.
About 79 percent of the convicts studied had inadequate parenting, which Clarke defined as “absent, incompetent, negligent or abusive parents.”
A strong relationship between children and their parents is extremely important as the child grows older, Clarke said.
“A child’s conscience emerges out of the attachments it forms with its parents,” Clarke said. “If moral values are not taught during the preschool years, a child’s future as a teen and an adult is virtually assured.”
A person without a good conscience will act only on the basis of expedience, Clarke said.
As the convicts aged, many showed signs of sociopathic behavior, but Clarke was quick to point out that not all sociopaths are incarcerated.
“Some are in corporate boardrooms,” Clarke said.
As teenagers, 57 percent of the convicts were involved in anti-social behavior that brought the attention of authorities, and 52 percent had been suspended or expelled from school.
For these reasons, when the killers were convicted, Clarke said, it probably came as no surprise to the social workers, teachers and counselors who had been in contact with them as children.
“Efforts to reduce violent crime in the long term should focus on families and children,” Clarke said. “Every kid needs a loving mother and father.”