Monday, August 24, 2015

Underreporting Clouds Attempt to Count Repeat Sex Offenders

January 2008:

Conventional wisdom says people released after serving time for sex crimes are likely to strike again. The numbers aren't as certain.

Among convicted criminals released from prison, sex offenders released from prison are less likely to be arrested for any new crime than most other offenders, with the notable exception of murderers, researchers say. Child molesters' rate of recidivism is at least as low as the group of sex offenders taken as a whole. Abusers of children within their own family have a lower rate still.

"The observed rate of sexual offenders' recidivism is much lower than commonly believed," says R. Karl Hanson, senior research officer at Public Safety Canada, who has studied the issue for decades. When he speaks to groups, including police officers or therapists, and asks them to estimate the observed rate of sex-crime re-offense, he typically hears numbers such as 70% to 90%. But his review of available research in Canada and the U.S. finds the typical rate is 25% to 30% over 20 years.

One reason for the numerical confusion may be that supporters of sex-offender registries who say sex offenders are more likely than not to re-offend are considering the rate of repeat sex offenses of sex criminals compared with the rate of sex offenses of prisoners released for other crimes. Sex criminals are less likely to be arrested for another crime of any type, but they commit more sex crimes than other groups of criminals. (In general, criminals are more likely to commit crimes in their category than are criminals from other categories.)

All these numbers need to be approached with some skepticism. There also are time limitations to many of the studies, which typically stop tracking the rate of repeat offenses after just three to five years. Pooling all sex crimes together also muddles the picture, as different types of criminals -- say, rapists, child molesters, exhibitionists -- show very different behavior after release from prison. And looming over all of this is the unknown of what proportion of sex crimes go unreported -- particularly within families, a major source of child sexual abuse.

Tracking outcomes for years after release is expensive and slow to show results. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has the most thorough recent U.S. study, covering more than 9,000 male sex offenders released in 15 states in 1994. The study found that sex criminals were less likely to be reconvicted over the following three years than the group of all released prisoners -- 24% compared with 47%. Child molesters had a lower rate, of 20.4%.
The study hasn't been updated, says co-author Matthew Durose, a statistician with the bureau, because "given the time required to collect criminal history information from offenders, it's not something that can be done on a more regular basis." As a result, there are little data measuring the effect of the past decade's spate of state measures, such as sex-offender registries and laws keeping convicted sex offenders a certain distance from schools.
Also, a short period of follow-up -- such as the three years of the U.S. government study -- is especially susceptible to unreported crimes, Dr. Hanson says.

Counting crimes that go unreported is, of course, paradoxical. One approach is to extrapolate a true crime rate from victimization surveys and compare that with reported crime, typically finding that roughly 90% of sex crimes go unreported. Some put the estimate even higher.

Lifetime Sex Offender Recidivism: A 25-Year Follow-Up Study

October 2004:

See criticism of this study by R. Hanson.

Recidivism risk is an important component of criminal justice and correctional planning, especially when it comes to sex offenders who may pose physical danger to others. The current study assessed the recidivism rate of 320 sex offenders and 31 violent non-sex offenders over a 25 year follow-up period.

Participants were sex offenders referred for psychiatric treatment by the court, police, probation services, defense lawyers, or mental health professionals between 1966 and 1974. The comparison group was comprised of the 31 violent non-sex offenders. Recidivism data were drawn in 1994 and 1999 from the RCMP database and from hospital records (Civil commitment patients. Accordingly, results not to be applied to all sex offenders. eAdvocate see other criticisms below]).

Results of statistical analyses indicated that approximately 3 out of 5 sex offenders were re-convicted of a sexual offense during the 25 year follow-up. When all offenses were considered, including non-sex offenses, four out of five sex offenders recidivated during the follow-up period.

Child sexual abusers and exhibitionists were most likely to re-offend, while incest offenders were the least likely to re-offend. The findings reveal that sex offense recidivism remains a problem over a significant part of a sex offender’s adult life.

Correctional planning for sex offenders should include actuarial measures of risk, although they should be used with caution until more long-term studies of recidivism risk among this population can be carried out. Tables, notes, references ..Source.. by Ron Langevin ; Suzanne Curnoe ; Paul Fedoroff ; Renee Bennett ; Mara Langevin ; Cheryl Peever ; Rick Pettica ; Shameen Sandhu ---- Full copy here

A sample of 320 sex offenders and 31 violent non-sex offenders, seen for psychiatric assessment between 1966 and 1974, were compared retrospectively on lifetime recidivism rates to 1999 over a minimum of 25 years.

A number of criteria and data sources were used; RCMP records and hospital records were the best sources, albeit the RCMP had records for only 54.1% of the cases. Approximately three in five offenders reoffended, using sex reoffence charges or convictions or court appearances as criteria, but this proportion increased to more than four in five when all offences and undetected sex crimes were included in the analysis.

Group differences in recidivism were noteworthy, with child sexual abusers and exhibitionists most likely to reoffend and incest offenders least likely. Time at large and time incarcerated played a relatively minor role overall in results, except in the case of offenders who were sexually aggressive against adult females, courtship disordered, or violent.

The typical known criminal career spanned almost two decades, indicating that sex offence recidivism remained a problem over a significant part of the offenders' adult lives.

Myth: Sex offenders have a 94 percent recidivism rate

Proponents of tough sanctions against sex offenders often cite a Canadian study published in 2004, “Lifetime Sex Offender Recidivism: A 25 year Follow-Up Study,” led by Canadian researcher Ron Langevin. The authors looked at 320 Canadian sex offenders referred to a single clinic for psychiatric evaluations between 1966 and 1974, when treatment programs for this group were uncommon. The report used an unusual definition of a recidivist as someone who had committed two or more sex crimes in their lifetime, even crimes they did before researchers began to follow them.

Langevin reported a 61.1 percent sex crime recidivism rate, including 51.1 percent for incest. The researchers also tabulated confessions the offenders made during counseling and new arrests that failed to bring convictions. Adding those presumed crimes to actual convictions increased the overall sexual recidivism rate to 88.3 percent, including 84.2 percent for incest. Measured this way, molesters of young children outside their own family had an even higher rate, 94.1 sex crime recidivism over 25 years. To this writer’s knowledge, that is the highest reported rate in any of the hundreds of existing recidivism studies. It underlies much of the widespread belief that all sex offenders are incurable and unrepentant.

Critics of Langevin claim his cohort was the worst of the worst offenders. Canadian researcher Karl Hanson has called it a nonrandom sample chosen for evaluations in connection with major prosecutions, civil commitment proceedings or insanity defense cases. This group also came under scrutiny in a different era when sex offender treatment programs were rare and experimental. The ensuing revolution in child protection and sex abuse prosecution over half a century has swollen American prison populations of sex offenders by fifty- and a hundred-fold. The group in prison now is arguably less prone to recidivism than members of the Langevin study.

Canadian researcher Cheryl Webster and colleagues have called the Langevin study so flawed it lacks any scientific integrity. In a rebuttal entitled “Results by Design: The Artefactual Construction of High Recidivism Rates for Sex Offenders,” Webster said more than half the individuals in the sample were already recidivists by Langevin’s definition at the time of their evaluations, thus ensuring at least a 50 percent recidivism rate. In the rest of the literature on criminology and in the popular press, recidivism generally means a new crime committed after release from prison.

Webster noted the Langevin sample was much larger at first. His team removed any people from the study whose criminal records had been lost or purged from the justice system after 15 years for lack of new crimes or charges. In effect, the scientists deleted most of the non-recidivists and thereby skewed the recidivism rate. In a reply to his critics, Langevin cautioned against making claims about all sex offenders based on this sample. He defended his definition of recidivism as one of many legitimate ways to measure it.

Those promoting tough sex offender laws rely as well on a 1997 study led by Robert Prentky. His group looked at 136 rapists and 115 child molesters released from the Bridgewater sex offender civil commitment center in Massachusetts between 1959 and 1986. The sexual recidivism rates based on new sexual charges were 32 percent for molesters and 25 percent for rapists. But the length of time the men were free in the community varied widely. If all had been at large the full 25 years covered in the study, the authors estimated the sexual recidivism rates would have been 52 percent for molesters and 39 percent for rapists.

This research dates from the same period as the Langevin findings and looked at a narrow sample of men already adjudicated to be an acute risk to reoffend. The average rapist had 2.5 sex crimes on his record before the crime that sent him to Bridgewater. The child molesters averaged 3.6 sex offenses prior to the crime that triggered civil commitment. Using Lengevin’s method, the recidivism rates for both groups would have been nearly 100 percent. The Prentky researchers concluded, “The obvious, marked heterogeneity of sexual offenders precludes automatic generalization of the rates reported here to other samples.”

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions and Sex Offender Legislation: Evidence of Evidence-Based Policy

2013 National:

In the past two decades, the federal government and states have enacted a wide range of new laws that target sex offenders. A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases has addressed the constitutionality of such legislation and, in so doing, contributed to the current policy landscape.

The Court’s influence is noteworthy in part because of the calls during this same time period for evidence-based policy. Does the influence, however, reflect not only the legal considerations that necessarily attend to these cases but also an accurate and balanced assessment of social science theory and research?

We address this question by examining Supreme Court cases from 1991 to 2011 involving sex crime laws. The findings indicate that the Court demonstrates an awareness of scientific research by referencing it in almost all decisions involving sex offender legislation, yet the Court frequently overstates or misinterprets empirical findings. Implications for research and policy are discussed. ..Source.. by CHRISTINA MANCINI* & DANIEL P. MEARS**

Special Report: Misquoting of Prentky's 1997 Long Term Recidivism Study: Affecting a MAJOR US Supreme Court Decision.

This is a paper first published in 2005, on eAdvocate's now defunct "News & Noteworthy: Articles Concerning Sex Offender Issues" website, and now brought forward and adjusted for Blog format.

June 2005:

Misquoting and Misapplying Prentky Statistics

THE CLAIM: Many folks claim that after 25 years sex offenders' recidivism is 52% for child molesters and 39% for rapists, and they cite Prentky 1997.

THE PROBLEM: Many folks are misquoting and misapplying R.A. Prentky's 1997 long term recidivism study and its findings to ALL sex offenders when those recidivism rates should ONLY apply to folks released from Massachusetts' civil commitment center back when Prentky was Director of that civil commitment center.

THE CAUSE: Whn folks cite stats they fail to recognize who Prentky is [was], and who his study subjects were, and are unaware of the Prentky's caution about misapplying the study findings. Prentky himself failed to carry forward his own caution from one study to his next study, which affected and may have inadvertently mislead the US Supreme court in
Smith et al. v. Doe et al.
538 U.S. 84 (2003). The main sex offender case cited even today.
Who is R.A. Prentky? Dr. Prentky was Chief Psychologist and Director of Research at the Massachusetts Treatment Center for Sexually Dangerous Persons (MTC) from 1980 until 1993. (pg-45 footnote 45) ... In July, 1997, Dr. Prentky returned to the Massachusetts Treatment Center as Director of Assessment. MTC is the state's civil commitment center. All of Prentky's study subjects are persons who had already committed many sex offenses causing their commitment to MTC, and then were released. Prentky published four studies in 1997 based on MTC subjects.

(see below Prentky's 1997 Studies-A, B, C, and D).
(C and D is where the confusion occurred)
POINT-1: Confusion Caused by Study-C and Study-D:
When Prentky published Study-C he had just finished Study-D, but it was not yet published. See his comment in Study-C [excerpt p-11] where, in footnote 28, Prentky mentions Study-D.

POINT-2: Study-D Prentky Caution Missing from Study-C:
Now, notice Prentky's closing WARNING about the findings of Study-D: "We would like to conclude with two important caveats. The obvious, marked heterogeneity of sexual offenders precludes automatic generalization of the rates reported here to other samples." This comment was not included in Footnote 28 of Study-C.
Accordingly, anyone who reads Study-C will never know they SHOULD NOT apply its findings to anyone but sex offenders released from civil commitment centers. This has caused many to misquote the study and its statistics. See below for a shock as to who has misquoted these two studies.

US Supreme court in Smith et al. v. Doe et al. 538 U.S. 84 (2003): The court's opinion cited Study-C which is missing Prentky's WARNING:
"Empirical research on child molesters, for instance, has shown that, "[c]ontrary to conventional wisdom, most reoffenses do not occur within the first several years after release," but may occur "as late as 20 years following release." National Institute of Justice, R. Prentky, R. Knight, & A. Lee, U. S. Dept. of Justice, Child Sexual Molestation: Research Issues 14 (1997)."
Accordingly, the court, while speaking of ALL sex offenders in society, incorrectly applied recidivism statistics which Prentky's WARNING (only found in Study-D) said not to do!

In the Smith case, according to the court's docket, several amicus curiae briefs were filed for the court to consider. Now, while I could not find all of those briefs I did find two that are relevant: Brief filed by the US Solicitor Generals office and one by The State of California, Attorney Generals office (for Attorney Generals of 43 other states), links below.
Those two briefs represent the findings, after review of the evidence and studies quoted, of over 40 lawyers. They quote from Study-D which contains the Prentky WARNING: "We would like to conclude with two important caveats. The obvious, marked heterogeneity of sexual offenders precludes automatic generalization of the rates reported here to other samples.
It is shocking that so many would ignore Prentky's WARNING and infer that those statistics represent what ALL sex offenders in society are like. Remember, Prentky's words, WARNING that his statistics are not applicable to the overall class of sex offenders!