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The extant literature on sex offender recidivism has thus far been unable to decisively resolve the readily apparent controversy that exists in the field about the proper interpretation of recidivism data and its meaning for public policy. On one hand, some researchers interpret the observed recidivism rates of sex offenders as low, and hence argue for revisions to the current sex offender policy framework.

Other researchers are more reticent to interpret recidivism data in the same way, pointing out that the true reoffense rates of sex offenders remain largely unknown due to underreporting and other factors. There is little question that policies and practices aimed at the reduction of sex offender recidivism would be far more effective and cost-beneficial if they better aligned with the empirical evidence, but bridging the gap is plagued by measurement problems and conflicting interpretations of the existing scientific evidence.

Individual and community safety would no doubt be served by a redoubling of efforts to break down victim reporting barriers, improve research and build more meaningful collaborations between researchers, policymakers, practitioners and the public. Others are more reticent to interpret recidivism data in the same way, arguing that the true reoffense rates of sex offenders are high or unknown or that observed recidivism rates can be misleading because the propensity of sex offenders to reoffend is poorly reflected in officially recorded recidivism, particularly when short follow-up periods are involved.

Had these offenders actually been at risk in the community for the entire follow-up period, recidivism may have been detected, resulting in a higher observed recidivism rate for the entire group of offenders being studied. See endnote Advances in methods regarding heterogeneity and methodological variability can successfully address these criticisms.

Meta-analyses that are based on prudent exclusionary criteria, incorporate statistical tests of homogeneity and explore how methodological and contextual variations impact treatment effects are uniquely equipped to provide policymakers and practitioners with highly trustworthy and credible evidence. In one study, the criterion for recidivism was not specified. Average follow-up periods ranged from one to 21 years, with a median of 4. Thirty-eight studies reported sexual recidivism 4, treated sex offenders and 3, comparison offenders and 30 studies reported general recidivism 3, treated sex offenders and 2, comparison offenders.

Recidivism was defined as reconviction in eight studies and rearrest in 11 studies. In 20 studies, broad definitions of recidivism were used, including parole violations, readmissions to institutions or community reports. Average follow-up periods ranged from one to 16 years, with a median of 46 months.


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The unweighted average recidivism rates were 12 percent for the treatment group and 24 percent for the comparison group. The average follow-up period for treated sex offenders was Prentky and colleagues , for example, examined the recidivism rates of rapists and child molesters at various follow-up points; the longest was 25 years after the offenders' release from confinement.

The observed sexual recidivism rate after five years of follow-up was 19 percent for both rapists and child molesters. By comparison, the observed sexual recidivism rates after 25 years of follow-up were 39 percent for rapists and 52 percent for child molesters.

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These analyses are discussed in greater detail in the "Recidivism Rates: Different Types of Sex Offenders" section in this chapter. A recent Safer Society survey of sex offender treatment programs in the United States and Canada found that females accounted for about 5 percent of the clients treated in U. Hanson and Morton-Bourgon reported that one of the 84 studies in the meta-analysis focused on female sex offenders. Based on the N-size reported in that study of female offenders, fewer than of the 20, sex offenders in the Hanson and Morton-Bourgon meta-analysis were female.

The "rape" category excluded statutory rape or any other nonforcible sexual act with a minor or with someone unable to give legal or factual consent. Sex offenders whose imprisonment offense was a violent sex crime that could not be positively identified as "rape" were placed in the "sexual assault" category. The three-year recidivism rates reported for the 6, sex offenders categorized as sexual assaulters follow: 5. Recidivism is reported as the failure rate, which is the proportion of individuals who recidivated or failed based on a standardized time at risk for all study subjects.

Determining the simple proportion of individuals who reoffended during the follow-up period — the most common method of calculating a recidivism rate — can underestimate the rate of recidivism because some of the nonrecidivists may not have been at risk in the community for the entire follow-up period.

Had they been, recidivism may have been detected, resulting in a higher observed recidivism rate for the entire group of offenders being studied. By standardizing the at-risk time for all study subjects, survival analysis yields a more accurate estimate of recidivism. For more information on "Sex Offender Typologies," see chapter 3. The 23 treated offenders participated in the treatment program being studied. The 21 comparison offenders were referred to counseling in their local community. Some researchers, for example, have expressed concern about generalizing recidivism findings derived from lengthy follow-up periods to present-day sex offenders because sex offender management strategies have changed and improved over time see, e.

Also, some researchers have questioned the comparability of findings from studies of domestic and foreign sex offenders on the grounds that U. Abel, G. Predicting child molesters' response to treatment.


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    Criminal Justice and Behavior, 25 , 8— Barbaree, H. Deviant sexual arousal, demographic and offense history variables as predictors of reoffense among child molesters and incest offenders. Recidivism of Sex Offenders. Female Sex Offenders. Cortoni, F. Research Report No. The recidivism rates of female sex offenders are low: A meta-analysis. Doren, D. Recidivism base rates, predictions of sex offender recidivism and the "sexual predator" commitment laws.

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    Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 16 , 97— Empirically based recidivism risk assessment estimate extrapolations across time and outcome measure. Schlank Ed. Durose, M. Washington, DC: U. English, K.

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    Firestone, P. Long-term follow-up of exhibitionists: Psychological, phallometric and offense characteristics. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 34 , — Gelb, K. Recidivism of Sex Offenders Research Paper. Melbourne, Australia: Sentencing Advisory Council. Grotpeter, J. Violent Sexual Offending. Hanson, R. Evaluating community sex offender treatment programs: A year follow-up of offenders.

    Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 36 , 87— Predicting relapse: A meta-analysis of sex offender recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66 , — First report of the collaborative outcome data project on the effectiveness of psychological treatment for sex offenders. Sex offender recidivism risk: What we know and what we need to know.

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    A comparison of child molesters and non-sexual criminals: Risk predictors and long-term recidivism. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 32 , — Harris, A. Heil, P. Crossover sexual offenses. Is prison sex offending indicative of community risk? Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36 , — Henslin, J.

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    Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Kelly, L. A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases. Kilpatrick, D.