Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Granny Get Your Gun

Is America on the Verge of a Geriatric Crime Wave?

By Nathan Comp

Crime is generally a young person's game, but that hasn't stopped an ever-growing number of older Americans from breaking the law. Following a decline through most of the '90s, over the past 10 years arrest rates for those over 50 have shot up 85 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Experts predict that these numbers will continue to climb well into the next decade, as 35 million baby boomers expand America's graying population from 16 to nearly 25 percent.

Is America on the precipice of a geriatric crime wave?

"The numbers are definitely going to keep going up, no doubt about it," says Ronald Akers, a criminology professor at the University of Florida. "People are healthier and living longer, which may make crime an attractive option for some older people."

Geriatric crime isn't a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to America. Several countries, including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and South Korea, have reported substantial increases in the number of elderly arrests, blaming the rises on rapidly growing—and marginalized—elderly populations. But none have seen problems on the scale of Japan, which saw arrest rates of residents over 70 triple from 9,478 to 28,892 between 2000 and 2006.

Most elderly, in America and abroad, are arrested for petty crimes such as shoplifting and drunk driving. But murder among the over-50 crowd climbed more than 15 percent in the last decade. (Music producer Phil Spector was 64 when he killed Lana Clarkson in 2003.) Drug arrests among the elderly tripled during this same period. In April, two sisters, ages 65 and 70, were busted in Stroudsburg, Penn., for selling heroin.

Akers speculates that many elderly arrestees are career criminals who maintain the stamina and strength that crime typically requires. "Late-onset criminality is very rare, and typically financial in nature," he says.

Author and geriatric expert Michael Brogden says late-onset criminality can flourish under some conditions, namely boredom. "With more able-bodied persons no longer gainfully employed, older people may be less inhibited in erring into crime," Brogden wrote in his book, Crime, Abuse and the Elderly. "Older people, freed from past conventions, are now able to indulge as novitiates in crime."


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