Crime among the elderly: A pilot study of lawful convictions in selected judicial districts

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The aim of this research was to conduct a pilot study of criminal case files of individuals with final sentences for crimes committed over 60 years of age. The study included profiling 60+ perpetrators and analysing their crimes: the ways and circumstances of committing them and the reaction of the justice system, i.e. the type of sentence imposed. The pilot study was conducted in selected court districts: Warsaw-Praga, Łomża, Przemyśl and Wrocław on a sample of 353 cases.

The study showed that offenders over 60 are mainly men. The youngest of the seniors were the most active. Criminal activity in this group decreased with age and disappeared around the age of 90, which can be explained by declining life expectancy as well as declining delinquency. More than half of the respondents were married, and one in five was a widower. The income of the respondents was relatively low: for almost half of them, it did not exceed PLN 1,500. It was rarely higher than PLN 3, 000. The source of income was most often a pension. The education of the respondents was mainly secondary and incomplete secondary in the case of almost 30% of the respondents, and in the case of a few less, it was primary and vocational. Higher education was the least frequent with 13% of respondents holding a university degree. The problems that the perpetrators over 60 were struggling with also seem to be important. Most often it was alcohol abuse (one in five), or alcohol dependence (one in ten).

The study allowed us to look at the offending behaviour of elderly people: both in current cases and in earlier periods of their lives (unless the data has been removed from the NCR as a result of the erasure of a conviction). The data that we were able to collect (from the official records of the National Criminal Record (Polish KRK), the police National Criminal Records Index (KSIP), from the offender and from people from his/her closest circles) shows that almost every fourth person surveyed had a previous criminal record, and this record usually occurred once or twice, although there were also people who had been punished many times (even more than 10 times). The reason for a previous criminal record was usually committing a crime against the safety of transport (most frequently driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – Art. 178a of the Penal Code). Offences committed against family and guardianship were much less frequent, and occasionally, e.g. offences against life and health or against dignity and inviolability.

The analysis of crime of persons over 60 demonstrates that it differs markedly from crime in general. More than 30% of the surveyed older persons committed crimes against traffic safety, but almost 60% of the acts in this group were offences of driving under the influence (Art. 178a of the Penal Code). Another substantial category was crime against property (almost 20%). Every tenth offender committed a crime of domestic violence (Art. 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). The perpetrators usually acted in their place of residence or in the nearby vicinity. Alcohol played a large role in their crime. In the case of some offences (such as the offence under Article 178a of the Code of Criminal Procedure), alcohol was an element of the prohibited act, while in others, such as domestic violence or violation of physical integrity of an officer, it was a circumstance of the offence.

Many of these crimes were committed unintentionally, usually out of carelessness (“I did not notice”, “my eyes were not the same anymore”). However, there were also those committed for financial reasons, which was unquestionably connected with the financial situation of the respondents. Their relatively low income was mostly spent on medication, medical consultations or rehabilitation.

The preliminary results of the research have been compiled in an article and submitted to the post-conference publication of the 3rd National Forum of Young Criminologists. A chapter entitled “Criminality among the elderly: Analysing patterns of offending in Poland”, which is a part of the monograph entitled Older Perpetrators of Violence and Abuse edited by Hanna Bows, which will be published in Emerald publishing house.