UF study: Marriage can reduce life of crime

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The bliss of a steady marriage is a strong antidote to a
life of crime, a new University of Florida study finds. In a study of paroled
men, the UF research team found that the most hardened ex-cons were far less
likely to return to their crooked ways if they settled down into the routines
of a solid marriage, said Alex Piquero, a UF professor of criminology and law
who led the study.

This tendency to stay on the straight and narrow was common among whites,
blacks and Hispanics, according to the study published in the September issue
of the journal Social Science Quarterly.

"People who are married often have schedules where they work 9-to-5 jobs, come
home for dinner, take care of children if they have them, watch television, go
to bed and repeat that cycle over and over again," Piquero said. "People who
are not married have a lot of free rein to do a lot of what they want,
especially if they are not employed."

There is a twist. Common-law marriages or living with a partner did not have
the same crime-reducing effect as did traditional marriages in which the knot
is tied, the union is registered at the courthouse, and there is a general
expectation to lead a steady life.

In fact, the study found that cohabiting without marriage actually increased
the likelihood that parolees would recommit crimes, at least among parolees who
are not Caucasian.

"Nonwhites, especially African-Americans, have lower rates of marriages than
whites, and it could be, especially among male criminal offenders, that the
idea of marriage is a foreign concept to them, perhaps because they may have
come from single-parent families or are surrounded by single-parent
households," he said.

Statistics indicate many nonwhite parolees are not steadily employed, so women
may not look upon them as desirable marriage partners anyway, Piquero said.
Rather than entering relationships with partners who might stymie their
involvement in crime, ex-cons end up sticking with women who allow them to
continue their errant ways, he said.

"There's something about crossing the line of getting married that helps these
men stay away from crime," he said. "If they don't cross that line, they can
continue their lifestyles, which are pretty erratic."

Using arrest records from the state of California, Piquero, Karen Parker, also
a UF criminology and law professor, and John MacDonald, a University of South
Carolina criminal justice professor, tracked each of 524 men in their late
teens and early 20s for a seven-year period after they were paroled from the
California Youth Authority during the 1970s and 1980s. The sample of men, who
had been incarcerated for lengthy periods of time, was 48.5 percent white, 33
percent black, 16.6 percent Hispanic and 1.9 percent other races. The study,
funded by the National Institute of Justice, sought to identify factors leading
to continued involvement in crime, as well as those relating to crime
reduction, Piquero said. It examined alcohol and drug use, marriage and
employment.

The only other factor to influence recidivism was heroin dependency, Piquero
said. Parolees who abused heroin became involved in a wide range of violent and
nonviolent crimes, he said.

Piquero said he was surprised by the results.

As the state's last stop for criminal offenders, the California Youth Authority
draws the worst criminal offenders. "These aren't one-time offenders who are
selling a few joints out on the street," he said. "I honestly didn't expect to
find the 'marriage effect' among these people, because they had made lots of
bad choices in their lives prior to this point and had long, long rap sheets,"
he said.

The results also may apply to criminals across the country because research has
shown many crime-related factors are similar nationally and even
internationally, Piquero said. "Serious offenders in California are not that
much different from serious offenders in Florida, New Jersey or New York," he
said.

The findings underscore the importance of life circumstances over time, Piquero
said. "It shows that life events such as marriage matter and can trigger
changes from one pathway to another, causing a move in a different direction,"
he said.
 

Writer: Cathy Keen
Source: Alex Piquero