Does anyone really understand recidivism?

By Sandy….

The recent post about incorrect information put forth as fact on “The View” has prompted some lively discussion about the term “recidivism” and the difficulty — and even sometimes the wisdom — of engaging in accurate discussions about it. This has prompted me to recall a blog post I wrote several years ago on this subject, and I feel it would be helpful to repeat it now. I feel now the same as I felt then in my opening words — I really dislike recidivism arguments and try to refrain from them. I do feel, however, that when misinformation is spewed from every side and over every air-wave, we must repudiate it. We will continue to do that. And now — a blast from the past.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thoughts on Sex Offender Recidivism

I strongly dislike arguments and discussions based on recidivism rates. However, I seem to be finding myself in them quite a bit of late.

Any report and any commentary about recidivism is only as good as the ability of the person reading it to properly decipher every factor that went into the study, and unless one is a trained researcher and analyst, that is next to impossible. That is why we cut to the chase: what is “the” recidivism rate?

Understanding all of the factors includes the vocabulary and the definitions. Are we talking any offense, including parole violations, that results in a re-arrest, or only a repeat sexual offense? Are we talking re-arrest, re-conviction, or re-incarceration before it is labeled “recidivism”? Was the study group a cross-section of all offenders, or did it focus on special populations? Were control groups in place? Was proper procedure followed? Was there peer review? (1)

Proponents of ever-increasing stringency and monitoring of former offenders claim that most studies track recidivism only for three years, and that with each year, the rate increases. However, while it is true that recidivism in general increases a little for the group as a whole each year of a study, for every individual in the study, and actually for individuals everywhere, the risk or chance of re-offending goes down every year they remain in the community offense-free. (2) (3) (4)

When you add to this the fact that the vast majority of those who are committing sexual offenses right now and will in the future are those not on a sex offender registry, and this is even more true in cases of child sexual abuse, the actual risk to any given child from a registered individual is minuscule.

No one wants to take any risk or chance, no matter how small, with the safety of his children, but the precautions taken must be in proportion to the actual risk of harm. You don’t totally ostracize and severely damage the lives of over 700,000 registrants and their families and their children based on such a small risk. You teach your children the common-sense precautions that our parents taught us and that you are probably already teaching them, and you keep up with where they are and who they are with–and that will also help, along with some additional instruction, against the much greater risk of sexual harm from those not on a registry.

And as much as it goes against the core of every parental instinct, we accept that we will never guard against all danger. Lightening will strike. Airplanes will fall. The baseball bat will break, and the flying piece will smash into someone’s head. And every time we start the car engine and check in the mirror that they are buckling their seat belts, we are putting them at more risk of calamity the second we are out of the driveway than an individual on the sex offender registry will ever present. (5)

In the food-for-thought category, these are two accurate statements about chances and risks as they involve children and registered offenders.

The person who will sexually molest your child is many times more likely to be found sitting around your table at holiday meals than on a sex offender registry.

Your child is more likely to end up on a sex offender registry him or herself than he or she is to be harmed by someone on the registry.




(3)”Still Time to Rethink the Misguided Approach of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.” AMY BARON-EVANS. Sentencing Resource Counsel, Federal Public and Community Defenders. FEDERAL SENTENCING REPORTER. VO L. 2 0, NO. 5, JUNE 2008, p. 357.

(4) No Easy Answers. Human Rights Watch. September 2007, p. 5.


Sandy Rozek

Written by 

Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.