Previously published recidivism rates
Sex offender recidivism has been a topic of concern for policymakers, law enforcement, and the public for years. One statistic that has been commonly cited is the claim that 80% of sex offenders will reoffend. However, recent research suggests that this statistic is flawed and that the actual rate of recidivism among sex offenders may be much lower.
Define recidivism rate
What do we mean? Below is the recidivism rate definition according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
Recidivism rate is a measure of the percentage of prisoners who return to prison or jail because they have committed another crime after being released. It is calculated by taking into account failure events within the recidivism window.0
According to a 2019 study by the US Department of Justice, the 5-year re-offense rate for a new sexual offense among released sex offenders was
3.5%. Similarly, a 2020 study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that the 3-year re-offense rate for a new sexual offense among sex offenders was also 3.5%. These findings suggest that the risk of sex offenders committing a new sexual offense is lower than previously believed.
Moreover, a Canadian government study from 2018 found that the re-arrest rate for a new sexual offense among released sex offenders was 3.5%. The study also identified age, type of offense, and prior criminal history as strong predictors of recidivism, highlighting the importance of individualized risk assessment.
A Fourth Study
While the previously cited studies challenge the commonly cited 80% recidivism rate among sex offenders, they are not the only studies to report lower rates of sexual re-offense. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that the 5-year sexual re-offense rate among released sex offenders in a large US state was 3.6%. The study also found that younger age, prior criminal history, and being unmarried were all predictors of sexual re-offense.
These findings are consistent with the other studies cited, which suggest that sex offender recidivism rates are shockingly lower than commonly believed. They are even lower than all other criminal groups compared recidivism statistics. Moreover, they suggest that individual risk factors, such as age and criminal history, may be important predictors of sexual re-offense.
Compare these statistics from other criminal justice categories:
|Type of Offense||Sub-Category||Recidivism Rate|
|Motor Vehicle Theft||54%|
While these studies do not diminish the seriousness of sexual offenses, they do raise important questions about the effectiveness of current policies that focus primarily on punishment and exclusion rather than rehabilitation and reintegration. More research is needed to better understand the complexities of sex offender recidivism and to inform evidence-based policies and practices that balance public safety with rehabilitation.
The data cannot be refuted. The available evidence suggests that the actual rate of sexual re-offense among sex offenders is shockingly lower than previously believed. While concerns about sex offender recidivism are valid, policies and practices should be informed by accurate and up-to-date information rather than flawed or sensationalized statistics.
The lies create the stigma
Sex offenders even acknowledge the need for treatment and the positive outcome of taking steps to reduce the recidivism rate. Yes, It is crucial that policymakers and practitioners use accurate and up-to-date information when making decisions related to sex offender management and rehabilitation, but with the stigma around this type of offense and the lies that created that stigma, how does one combat that false narrative to even broach the subject?
We hope this article does some good. We hope this starts a conversation.
- Zeng, Z., & Stroop, J. (2019). Recidivism of sex offenders released from state prison: A 9-year follow-up (2005-2014). US Department of Justice. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsorsp9yfu0514.pdf
- Waage, L., & Louden, J. E. (2020). Sex offender recidivism in Minnesota: An analysis of three-year recidivism rates among sex offenders released from Minnesota prisons. Minnesota Department of Corrections.
- Research and Statistics Division. (2020). Recidivism in the Criminal Justice System. Department of Justice Canada. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/jf-pf/2020/aug01.html
- Harris, A. J. R., Hanson, R. K., Helmus, L., Thornton, D., & Hanson, J. C. (2017). Sex offender recidivism: A simple question. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(2), 196-211.