How a 1986 Psychology Today article continues to make fools of Supreme Court justices

By Joshua Vaughn . . . Licensed Professional Counselor Robert Longo has been vocally opposed to public registries for convicted sexual offenders for years.

“I actually met with a group of people in New Jersey and sat across from Megan Kanka’s grandfather,” Longo said.

The 1994 murder of 7-year-old Kanka gave rise to the public disclosure of sexual offender registries through what are commonly known as Megan’s laws.

“I told the grandfather of the young girl, Megan Kanka, who was raped and murdered, that I appreciate what happened to his granddaughter but this law is not going to make people safe,” Longo added. “Those laws did nothing. It didn’t prevent anything.”

That has not stopped an article he co-wrote in Psychology Today 30 years ago from being used to uphold and provide evidence for the “public’s need” for the registries.

“I just think it’s unfortunate,” Longo said. “What can I say?

“People use statistics and they will twist statistics,” he added. “People are going to take anything that works to their advantage, or twist a quote, to make it work to their advantage and I just think it’s unfortunate.”


An anecdotal quip of Longo’s from the March 1986 article, that up to 80 percent of untreated sexual offenders go on to commit more sexual crimes, has helped shape the modern view of these offenders as being immutable. This is a view that Longo opposes, and he has spent roughly four decades treating and rehabilitating these very same offenders.

“With treatment we were getting these people down to recidivism rates of 20 percent and below,” Longo said. “My belief then, as is my belief now, is that treatment should be mandated for these people because we can treat them and treat them successfully, and reduce the amount of sex crimes in America.”

The Psychology Today article was the sole reference in a 1988 U.S. Department of Justice field practitioner’s guide for treating incarcerated sexual offenders cited by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in a 2002 opinion upholding compelled treatment based in part on the “frightening and high” re-offense rate of up to 80 percent for sexual offenders, according to Ira Ellman, a professor of Law at Arizona State University who first noted the connection to Longo’s writing in a recent Constitutional Commentary article.

In the same article, in which Longo touted a treatment program he headed at the time to rehabilitate incarcerated sexual offenders at the Oregon State Hospital, he wrote that re-offense rates for untreated sexual offenders could be anywhere from 35 to 80 percent.

Kennedy again referenced the “frightening and high” re-offense rate a year later when the court upheld an Alaska law that subjected offenders who had been convicted prior to the sexual offender registry’s creation to placement on the registry.

“Alaska could conclude that a conviction for a sex offense provides evidence of substantial risk of recidivism,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion for Smith v. Doe. “The legislature’s findings are consistent with grave concerns over the high rate of recidivism among convicted sex offenders and their dangerousness as a class.”

The U.S. Department of Justice now states on its website that the rate at which released sexual offenders are rearrested for new sexual offenses is as low as 3 to 10 percent.

Both of the opinions penned by Kennedy overturned lower court decisions opposing the state laws, according to Ellman.

In the Smith decision, the two individuals bringing suit were released from prison in 1990, remained offense-free for more than a decade, and one had been given custody of his daughter after being deemed rehabilitated by the courts, Ellman wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court declined comment, stating only that “as a rule, the Justices do not elaborate upon or discuss the opinions of the Court, which speak for themselves.”


As Ellman points out, Psychology Today is not an academic journal and is written for a lay-audience. As such, Longo’s article does not provide any citations regarding where the information came from.

“Anything I would have said would have been based on the science at that time and things that were factual and not my opinion,” Longo said. “… That statistic, at that point in time, was the best statistic we had at that point in time in the history of the field. That recidivism rate is probably higher than we would say today. I don’t think the recidivism rate for untreated sex offenders is necessarily 80 percent. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I would say that’s a very high estimate.”

So, how does this article make its way to be one of the linchpin facts in two Supreme Court cases?

The simplest answer is that the courts just assumed it was true.

“I don’t think (the Supreme Court) knew that’s where it came from,” Ellman said. “The solicitor general filed an amicus brief saying there was an 80 percent re-offense rate and cited a justice department manual. I suspect that Justice Kennedy and the clerks never went beyond that.

“The (solicitor general) has a lot of credibility and he’s citing a justice department manual, which you might assume has credibility,” he added. “I think they just burrowed the reference from the amicus brief.”

Ellman, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, said the court staff likely only looked to see if the information was stated in the cited manual, and never checked the veracity of the underlying claim.

“In this case, if you went to the justice department manual … the justice department manual does say that,” he said. “My guess is a clerk checked it that far, but just because the justice department manual said that, the justice department didn’t do any independent research on its own.”

The editor of the field manual herself, Barbara K. Schwartz, has rebuked the current policies and use of public registries.

In a 2010 essay titled “No More Victims,” which Schwartz used as the preface to an updated “Handbook of Sexual Offender Treatment,” she called the current public policies “very expensive” and “ineffective at preventing sexual assault.”

Schwartz wrote that the policies, like public registries, are counter-intuitive and interfere with the factors known to reduce re-offense rate.

“Having worked in the field of sex offender treatment since 1971, I now feel that I have fallen down the ‘the rabbit hole’ and am watching the Red Queen scream, ‘Off with their head,’” Schwartz wrote. “Is there no end to the counterproductive response to sex offenders and the problem of sexual assault … If individuals who found inappropriate ways to achieve basic human needs before they committed a sexual assault cannot fulfill their needs after they have offended, is that a setup for reoffending?”  (republished from The Sentinel)

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24 Thoughts to “How a 1986 Psychology Today article continues to make fools of Supreme Court justices”

  1. FredFred

    Well this is again just preaching to the choir, We are well aware that even though we can present perfectly logical and rational arguments backed up with relevant statistics about how the registry does not keep anyone safe and may actually do that opposite, they will still continue to pass these laws.

    They pass these laws not because they think data proves the necessity of the laws, but because the laws create a form of steady income for them as well as votes. They will continue to pass these laws because no one is stopping them. Facts and evidence have nothing to do with it. They see that, they get it, they don’t care.

    Our politicians are not as stupid as we like to pretend they are. They are actually very intelligent and cunning. They see an angle to create more income for themselves, the courts and the prison system and not to mention the approval of the lobbyists and voters to secure their cushy positions of power. .

    As long as we are a quiet little whispering voice, they know they can continue to get away with it. They will ride this for as long as it works. When we get loud enough to where the supreme court actually has to listen and take us seriously, only then will it come to an end. The sooner we organize and start planning for large demonstrations instead of the 2 or 3 person demonstrations we are doing now the sooner we can get to that point.

    1. AvatarDad

      I am under 10 Years!! of “intensive sex offender” probation. While that in and of itself does not preclude one from advocating for Megan’s law or state SORA reform, if my probation officer ever found out that I was engaging in such activity I would have Crushing, Debilitating restrictions added. Given that I have won a few small privileges thus far, I can not “go backwards” here. My family is hushed for the same reason. Don’t wonder why the numbers of voices is so small. It’s probation.

    2. FredFred

      It sounds like you are not already under crushing restrictions. I hope you know that almost every year they pass more restrictive laws anyway whether you made your probation officer mad or not, therefore increasing hardships for you and your family.

    3. AvatarDad

      My probation officer has brought me in front of my sentencing judge for NONSENCE. I haven’t been violated but the Judge does not want to see me any more and I can’t spend $1,500 for another attorney violation hearing so I stay quiet. My wife & children & family are so SHOT from me still being brought into court facing JAIL every time. I am shot. I can’t do this anymore so I stay quiet. My heart aches for my family, my poor children love me so much. Make no mistake. My heart aches terribly for the victims & families of child pornography as well.

    4. AvatarMikey

      I was convicted of one count of invasion of privacy in Pennsylvania from using an old cell phone to basically “sneak a peek” I didn’t even know this was a Meagan’s Law offense at the time and neither did my lawyer. Turns out it never was before the Adam Walsh Act of 2012. I had all of the official testing done and had no mental abnormalities and even though it was only an M3, I was given an SVP status. I lost my job with the township, my promotion, my pension, my car, home, and became homeless sleeping in a field. I know how horrible this can be and is designed to make it impossible for a person to exist. I was given a life sentence for an M3 and 7 years of probation. Meagan’s Law is the worst part of the sentence and every study has shown that it doesn’t help anyone; not victims, or offenders. It has created an entirely new “decay” of society. I can’t find work even though a went to college and have a good resume. This is why people become new types of criminals, because they have nothing to lose and nothing to live for. The justice system produces criminals instead of preventing them with Megan’s Law. I am not condoning illegal activity, I just believe there is a difference between a child rapist and someone who did something petty. There were no minors involved in my crime either. I have decided to end my life once and for all. I cannot go on like this over something petty. If there are no second chances and nothing to look forward to, but fear and stress and anxiety, why live at all? I know this is what the world wants for me anyway, I just hope my death helps someone in some small way.

    5. AvatarPaul


      I understand where you are coming from. It is a LOT harder to be an advocate off probation than on. You can’t associate with other felons. I know that’s a condition you have. This makes it virtually impossible to engage in activism. However, you do still have the right to speak your mind. The first amendment still applies to you. Yes, there are risks in doing so and you understandably may choose not to until your probation ends. But you still can speak your mind and that doesn’t require being physically present somewhere at a march to do so. Just remember that.

    6. AvatarPaul

      One option IS to speak your mind in ways where you wouldn’t have to collaborate with others on the registry. I know that’s hard but it is doable. Whether it is meeting with your local lawmaker, or with family members of other registrants who are involved in activism, there are ways. It’s a toughie because you do have to avoid being around registrants but just remember that no where in your conditions does it say that you can’t say how you feel about the registry. A probation officer would have no grounds to bring you in on that and a judge would throw it out in a heartbeat. But you decide. Don’t do more than what you feel you can.

    7. AvatarEmil S

      sounds like a scared little wife trying to please/win over her abusive husband in a domestic violence case. The fact is, no matter what the wife does, the husband finds something to vent his anger against his wife.

      However, it is a sad reality for many people who have been convicted of a sex crime, that not only they face their mandatory minimum jail/prison sentences, they also get mandatory supervised post release for many years, and to add cherry on top they also have to register as a sex offender for decades, in not for life in some states.

      They are tightening the noose, and if people want to feel comfortable and at ease despite the bitter reality, then they will continue to increase their pressure until sex offenders are put in internment camps with RFID chips implanted in their body, or worse yet castrated and put into those internment camps with RFID chips implanted in their body.

    8. AvatarPaul

      To quote Morpheus (you are living in a dreamworld, Emil). Actually I think I should say you aren’t living in a dreamworld. This is reality. I wish it were a dystopian Orwellian daydream you were having, but it’s happening. That’s why we need to stand up and fight for ourselves.

    9. AvatarPaul

      Yup, “frightening and high” are two words that will live in infamy for us RSO’s. It’s probably the most damaging words that have ever been spoken and they continue to reverberate to this day. Unfortunately, the other side usually counters this argument by noting that underreporting is usually the cause for the low statistics. But when you keep in mind that stranger danger is basically a myth and the overwhelming, vast majority of offenders know the victims, it cuts the underreporting myth down to size. And since most perpetrators are family members, registry information would be useless to them. And since felonies are readily searchable for background checks, schools and churches do not need them either. It’s a feel good law that makes the public feel protected. That’s all.

      Fred is right, until there is a large public movement, no progress will be made. It’s hard because of the restrictions a lot of us have on us, but I’m afraid it’s the only way.

    10. AvatarEmil S

      Those who are put in the Supervised Post Release (which is mandatory in several states after someone fulfills their jail/prison sentence) face lots of additional restrictions and burdens apart from being in the registry. I feel the pain of some of the comments above.
      These probation people have no empathy, to say the least. They are always looking for something like a hound dog to crucify those under supervision.
      It seems they feel like they are not doing their job unless they make someone’s life more miserable; I guess their job makes them that way, heartless, with apathy. And they have the carte blanche from the society to impose any additional burden just “to keep everyone safe.” Of course I’m talking about those in the supervision, which is worse than probation.
      In North Carolina, supervised post release is for five years. Under the terms of supervision one can be searched anytime without any warrant, one cannot view any pornography, including magazine; one cannot visit any place where alcohol is sold, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. I wonder if they give the certificate of Sainthood at the end of the supervision!
      I guess they justify their action as something like they are doing that to those “scum perverts”, as if they have not faced enough punishment already.

      I feel really sad sometime when I see how people can be so heartless. Where is forgiveness? Where is second chance? Does one mistake define a person for the rest of his/her life? Surely this is not the sin that was mentioned in the Bible as the sin that cannot be forgiven!

    11. AvatarPaul

      The Federal Post Supervision Guidelines (which I think you are talking about, Emil) are pretty uniform across the country for SOR with maybe a few small exceptions here or there depending or the district. And I echo everything you said above and would add that you are possibly being a little too kind in your description of it. :o)

  2. Avatardiana

    The Solicitor General referred to? Was it possibly John Roberts?
    How did undocumented “opinion” posing as as “research” get into the Justice Department Manual in the first place?

  3. AvatarEmil S

    We all need to write to representatives, news media, and any other avenue so facts dictate policies and laws that affect those in RSO and their families.

  4. AvatarThe Inquiring Mind

    I ‘m quite sure everyone has heard the song “…to Dream the Impossible Dream…” right? Well, here is a dream I had the other night, I dreamed that EVERY RSO in the Country turned themselvess into their local police station and declared they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore and that they were not going register with anybody any more, just “F” it, lock us all up—right now! Does anyone have any idea the impact that a move like that would have on the criminal justice system everywhere? If all 80,000 RSOs in TX were to do that there would surely be a major panic in Austin. If they did it in LA, NY, Chicago, every major city, small town and hamlet—can you imagine the confusion and panic with police and Gov’Ment officials? However, remember the name of that song again? “…To Dream the Impossible Dream…”

    1. FredFred

      Entire states or better yet the whole country refusing to register would be catastrophic for them and a win for us. They would have to abandon the entire project on the spot for a few reasons such as they don’t have the money, resources or manpower to go after us all and best of all the people have spoken loudly and clearly in which they can’t ignore.

      In Michigan we have over 40,000 RSOs. I think currently 13,000 are non-compliant. Many of the non-complaint’s whereabouts are unknown. This already creates a big strain on law enforcement and distracts them from catching real criminals, but it also gives them a reason to keep asking for grants to create their special task forces and keep increasing their profits.

      If all 40,000 were to announce that we are not going to continue with this nonsense their hands will be tied to do anything. It would be akin to a large company going on strike, but unlike a company, they can’t hire scabs to replace us. They will be forced to negotiate with our leaders and will be in control.

      This is why I keep saying we have to unite, just like a labor union. In fact we should probably change our mind set a little. We are part of a business organization. The SOR is BUSINESS. It is about making money and securing votes, nothing more. We create that cash flow. When you think of it that way, you realize the ones who are really in control are us. All we have to do is unite.

    2. Avatarrwvnral

      While we appreciate a diversity of opinion for the sake of healthy discussion and debate, please understand that RSOL does not advocate non-compliance with registration laws as a means to alter or abolish them. We believe that public protest, legislative lobbying, and serious litigation…in addition to organizing at the grass roots level, are the most appropriate avenues for substantive change. -Admin

    3. FredFred

      I don’t advocate non compliance. I have actually commented before telling people to ignore someone’s suggestions to non compliance. I am only referring to if all 40,000 people on MI SOR agreed to this movement. Otherwise it would be fruitless.

    4. AvatarPaul

      Exactly. That’s how I interpreted your comment.

  5. Avatarsandy

    Mikey, I hear you, and I understand your frustration. Ending your life is not the answer. No, it will not help make anything better. It will just make everything sadder. Please, please do not do this. Please reach out to someone. Every town has a suicide helpline. This is a helpline monitored by a S.O. support group: 800.773.4319. Please email We will be waiting to hear from you.

    1. AvatarJR

      Mikey, My name is JIM in Florida.

      Call the number above. You have support with us.

    2. AvatarPaul

      Mikey, don’t do that, man. We care about you. I know that must sound cliche but you are an asset to our community. Everyone is because we can all make a difference. And even if you don’t want advocate, I know there are people in your life who love you. Please call RSOL.

  6. FredFred

    I would like to be clear about something. There is a certain RSO who had been posting on this site and on many news articles across the internet in regards to the SOR. I think his name is Rudy. He likes to talk about how he refuses to follow this law and points out reasons why they can’t do anything about this as if he believe he is immune from charges if caught.

    Well I have expressed admiration for Rudy’s courage but have insisted to him that even though the law is clearly wrong it is still the law and he will be charged and locked up when caught. I have also strongly recommended that others do not follow his example.

    These laws are wrong, but they are the laws and we must follow them if we want to stay out of prison. You do more for our cause if you are not in prison.

    My only mission is to unite as many RSOs as possible so that we can have a strong movement and stage strong and noticeable demonstrations. We however must continue to follow the laws to a T. To do otherwise would destroy us because that is where we cross the line of being the law abiding citizens we claim to be, to becoming criminals.

    I haven’t seen any messages from Rudy in awhile. Rudy if you are still free, let us know how you are doing.


  7. AvatarDad

    Paul, Emil, I guess the (best?) place for me to start is to write my local law makers in my state’s Capital. But I know that they don’t want to hear from, or care about any sex offender. I’m so friggin mad that I want to DEMAND that they hear how I do have empathy, how I am law abiding and how this stupid Sex Offender Registration Act etc, etc HAS endangered my children and my wife!! And how it dictates that I “AM NOW, STILL” the same as I was. Please tell me, do I in a nice way just pour my heart out to them? Just write the truth? They don’t give a crap about us. But I guess I should write anyway? Though they did do away with the local (County/Town) residency restrictions in my state which MAY BE a glimmer of hope. Thanx

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