|Common Sense Advocated
by Victim's Mother
1989, 11 year old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped and never seen
again. His mother, Patty Wetterlilng, was instrumental in the 1994
passage of the federal Jacob Wetterling Act which required
states to establish sex offender registries. She recently said: "The
challenge is, you can't treat all sex offenders the same; they're
July 27, 2005)
Jacob Wetterling Foundation advises: "Community
Notification is not about chasing sex offenders out of our
neighborhoods. We all face the challenge of building new
communities, which recognize that sex offenders live and work among
us. Experts state that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend if
they live and work in an environment free of harassment… If we are
going to make our communities safer, we need to use this law to our
benefit. We need offenders to succeed, because if they don't, that
means there will be another victim.” Read
A Detailed Analysis of Sex
in New York State
by C. David Hess
Representative of SOhopeful of New York
New York State provides a wealth of studies
on sex offender recidivism. While the thought of statistical studies causes the
eyes of many to glaze over, any who are concerned that public policy be based on
fact rather than mythology are grateful to have some hard data. It is extremely
informative to look at the data gathered over the last 20 years.
The earliest study in this period was a New
York Department of Corrections study (Profile and follow-up of sex offenders released in 1986,
prepared by Canestrini, K., State of New York Department of Correctional
Services) which followed 556 sex offenders released from state prisons in 1986.
A total of 49% of these were returned to prison within the 9 year
follow-up period. It should be noted that only 6% of these (34 out of 556)
were returned to prison for a new sex crime. Most were returned for
parole violations (27%) or for committing other crimes such as drug
offenses. The study includes the clear statement:
“These findings suggest that sex offenders are a diverse population and
that when looking at sex offender recidivism it is important to
distinguish total criminal activity from sexual reoffending.” (p.
34) Unfortunately, politicians and the media often do not do this. It
also should be noted that this study was conducted before New York's Megan's Law
New York regularly publishes 3 year follow-up studies of all those released from state
prisons. Between 1985 and 2002 a total of 12,863 sex offenders were
released. Only 272 of these (2.1%) were returned to prison for new sex
crimes within three years of their release.
Releases: Three Year Post Release Follow-up, State of New York Department of Correctional
Services, p. 18) Of course, as in the above mentioned study,
recidivism rates are higher if one counts those returned to prison for parole
violations or for committing other crimes such as drug offenses. In terms of
this overall rate of recidivism, it is important to note that sex offenders have
a lower 3 year rate of recidivism (31%) than the general prison population
(42%). Only 8% of sex offenders were returned to prison as a result of a
conviction for a new crime. Most were returned for
The latest sex offender recidivism study,
Research Bulletin: Sex Offender Populations, Recidivism and Actuarial
Assessment (New York State Division of Probation and Correctional
Alternatives, May, 2007) is unique in
that it also includes those sentenced to probation and county jails. Most
recidivism studies (including those previously cited) examine only those who
were sentenced to prison. The study examined 19,827 offenders on the New York
State Sex Offender Registry on March 31, 2005.
The heart of the study is contained in the
|Probation is the most common sentence
for sex offenders in New York State. Of the 2,944 sentences for offenses
requiring registration on the Sex Offender Registry (SOR) in 2006, 1,206
were to probation, representing 41.0% of the total. Sentences to prison
accounted for 31.0% (913) and sentences to local jails accounted for 16.9%
(500). There were 325 offenders
in the “other” sentencing category, including fines and conditional
discharges. A small number of sentences were categorized as unknown (120).
( p. 1)
Table One: Proportion of
Registered Sex Offenders Rearrested
(Among 19,827 offenders on the registry on March 31, 2005)
Source: DCJS: NYS Sex Offender Registry and NYS
Computerized Criminal History Data Base
DCJS data above included probationers, as well as parolees, those under
custody and offenders whose sentence had expired...
offenders are arrested and/or convicted of committing a new sex crime at a
lower rate than other offenders who commit other new non-sexual
crimes. (emphasis mine) (p. 3-4).
The report did not specify the
reasons for arrests other than those arrested for new sex offenses. It is
likely (as seen in the previously mentioned studies) that most of these were for
parole or probation violations. In
addition, many of these arrests were for Failure to Register. Sex offenders must
update their registration at least once a year (and many, more often).
Another New York study reports that between 2002 and 2006, 1730 sex offenders were
convicted (and certainly more were arrested) for Failure to Register.
Management 2006 Crimestat Update, New York Division of Criminal Justice
Services, p.11) If these figures and those from other years are eliminated that would
bring the re-arrest rate down considerably.
In a sense the registry law "creates" crimes. This
vicious cycle will likely increase as sex offender residency
laws continue to proliferate. More registered sex offenders (RSOs) will be arrested for violating those.
In turn, more RSOs will fail to register because the residency laws make it
impossible for them to find housing. These new laws create an increasing "crime
wave" by sex offenders which will, no doubt, increase calls for even more laws.
Meanwhile the rate of arrest for new sex crimes remains relatively stable and
Has Megan's Law reduced sex offender recidivism in New York State? There is
no evidence that it has. This is apparent when one compares this latest study with the earlier
pre-Megan's Law study. That study reported that within 9 years of their release,
49% were returned to prison (including for parole violations), but only 6% were
returned for committing a new sex crime. The latest study shows a total
re-arrest rate after 8 years of 48% and an 8% re-arrest rate for sex crimes.* It
is not completely valid to compare these two studies. They involve different
populations and recidivism is measured differently (return to prison vs.
re-arrest), but it is striking that after more than 10 years experience with
sex offender registration laws in New York State there has been no significant
change in sex offender recidivism. It has remained relatively stable and low.
8 years of the initial date of registration, 11% of Level 3 offenders (highest
risk), 7% of Level 2 offenders, and 6% of Level 1 offenders were arrested for
another sex crime. (see more)
|This chart, RSO
(Registerable Sex Offense) Arrest Counts, says it all. It depicts every sex
offense arrest in New York State for 21 years (10 years before the
enactment of the sex offender registration law to 11 years afterward).
The vertical line separates the before and after periods. The green
line at the bottom shows arrests for those who had previously been
convicted of a sex offense. The chart dramatically illustrates that
96% of those arrested for sex crimes in New York State have no prior
convictions for sex crimes and thus are not listed on any registry. It
also dramatically illustrates that the registry has had no impact on
recidivism. Contrary to popular opinion, sex offender recidivism was
low before the registry and low afterwards. (more)
Study Finds New York Sex Offender
Registration and Notification Laws Have No Effect
Despite the fact that the federal and many state governments have
enacted registration and community notification laws as a means to
better protect communities from sexual offending, limited
empirical research has been conducted to examine the impact of
such legislation on public safety. Therefore, utilizing
time-series analyses, this study examined differences in sexual
offense arrest rates before and after the enactment of New York
State's Sex Offender Registration Act. Results provide no support
for the effectiveness of registration and community notification
laws in reducing sexual offending by: (a) rapists, (b) child
molesters, (c) sexual recidivists, or (d) first-time sex
offenders. Analyses also showed that over 95% of all sexual
offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders,
casting doubt on the ability of laws that target repeat offenders
to meaningfully reduce sexual offending.
a watched pot boil? A time-series analysis of New York State's sex
offender registration and notification law. Sandler, Jeffrey
C.; Freeman, Naomi J.; Socia, Kelly M., Psychology, Public Policy,
and Law. Vol 14(4), Nov 2008, 284-302.
A federally funded study by the New
Jersey Department of Corrections had similar findings. It found an overall rate of recidivism
of sex crimes of 9% over the 6 1/2 year follow up period.
From the report: "Despite widespread community support for these laws,
there is virtually no evidence to support their effectiveness in reducing
either new first-time sex offenses (through protective measures or general
deterrence) or sex re-offenses (through protective measures and specific
deterrence)...Given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan's Law on
sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable."
More on this study (and a link to the study itself)
may be found here.
Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy, December,
|Food for Thought
|"Political parties are using sex
offenders to demonstrate that they are tougher on law and order than
the other state," said John La Fond, a retired law professor and
author on sex offender treatment in Washington state. "No one really wants to know the facts anymore."
Seventy years ago, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt told the country: The only thing we have to
fear is fear itself. Today, we are told to fear everything but fear
itself, which we embrace with widespread arms, outstretched hands
and an open wallet. We treat fear like Caesar victorious. We allow
fear into our homes, our heads, our hearts. We build whole
industries around it. – Linton Weeks
The face of danger is more likely
to appear in a family snapshot than in a mug shot on a sex offender
registry. The kidnapping or sexual abuse of a child by a stranger is
very rare. According to a
from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, of the sexual offenses committed
against children in 2000, 34.2% of the perpetrators were family
members and 58.7% were friends of the family (or other adults the
children knew well). In the age range for sex-related crime victims
of 6 to 11 year olds, only 4.7% of their molesters were strangers
and in the age range of 0 to 5 years of age, only 3.1% of the
perpetrators were strangers.
Out of the first 178 perpetrators who were caught
in the Dateline "To Catch a Predator" sting, only 4 were registered
A national hysteria about sex offenders has led
to illogical public policy that has not been proven to make children
Nancy Sabin, executive
director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, a victim advocacy
"There's an awful lot of legislators going for the feel-good, quick
fixes to enhance their own careers and reputation," Sabin said. "We
need to marry policy with science-based tools.
"Stop having lay people figure out goofy things that don't work,
like green license plates, pink license plates, e-mail registries,
chemical castration and residency restrictions."
Instead of enacting public policy such as residency restrictions,
more resources should be spent on preventing sex crimes in which the
victim and perpetrator know each other, which make up the majority
of such crimes, Sabin said. (The Arizona Republic, March 16, 2007)
[Albany, NY Police Chief]
Heider said the abuse [by a local coach] underscores a parental anxiety over to whom
they entrust their children, as well as the pitfalls of focusing
only on obvious dangers like the current controversy over laws
governing where documented sex offenders are allowed to live.
"People are arguing about the sex offender registry. This guy's not
on any registry," Heider said. "The majority of the people we arrest
are not on the registry. I'm not saying the registry is bad ... but
we put way too much weight on the ones we know and we forget about
the guys like this that we don't know." (Times Union, August 28,
The vast majority of sex
crimes are committed by someone who is not on the Sex
Offender Registry. During 2005-2006, approximately 94% of the
persons arrested for sexual offenses in New York State had no prior
sex convictions. As a result, these people would not have been on
the Sex Offender Registry (New York Sex Offender Management Grant,
I want to express plainly, in advance, that I
do *not* believe that serious criminal offenders of this kind, or
any other, should not have appropriate consequences and restrictions
placed on them or that the public should not be notified when it is
appropriate to do so. However, if we are to believe even half of the
research that has been conducted across this nation in this field,
then we can only conclude that, in general, sex offender
registration and website programs have little or no discernible
effect on recidivism or public safety. The most prevalent threat to
the public comes from those who have not yet offended or have not
yet been identified and caught. - Ned Zylinski (Report
of Iowa Sex Offender Research Council to the Iowa General Assembly,
Appendix 2, January, 2009)
Ours is a culture obsessed with youth...
Just last week, the most e-mailed and viewed
image in the news section of Yahoo.com was that of the bikini-clad
Louisiana contestant in the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant, Logan
Brook Travis, a 15-year-old girl.
Is it any wonder some adults develop unhealthy
sexual proclivities toward children?...
Those who do more than simply parrot our
societal obsession with youth and actually act on their desires are
permanently branded sex offenders by the courts. They are the new
pariahs of our culture, forbidden to live freely amongst us...
As a mother, I am disgusted and deeply
disturbed by any form of child abuse and will do everything within
my power to protect my children from predators. But I cannot ignore
the conflicting messages with which our culture is bombarded
regarding the connection between sexual desire and youthfulness.
Our youth-obsessed culture created and
supports these undesirable desires. To permanently demonize those
who simply parrot that which they see constantly in the media, or to
permanently imprison those who are unable to restrain themselves
from acting on the desires and ideals actively espoused by our
culture is, in my opinion, nothing short of hypocritical. ---Nicole
Black (The Daily Record, August 21, 2007)
I think we have to get better at identifying
the high-risk offender. Sexual offenders are not all the same, just
as everyone convicted of drunken driving is not an alcoholic. --Dr.
Jill S. Levenson
From an October 18, 2007 CNN report on a
trailer park in Florida that welcomes sex offenders:
Some experts agree that it is hope as much as
fear that keeps offenders from relapsing.
"You have to offer people hope if you expect them to change," said
psychologist Don Sweeney, who works with the residents here. "If
society only wants to tear them down and doesn't show them any way
back, then all hope is lost in their minds, and they are more likely
Sex offenders are normal human beings. They
frequently have great humanity in other parts of their lives. This
can be very disorientating. It would be so much easier if sex
offenders were somehow not human, were not like the rest of us, were
simply monsters. But they are not.
They are one of us. And they are our
---Fiona Neary, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland
These findings do not
suggest that the Internet is more dangerous than other environments
that children and adolescents frequent…
Some recent Internet safety
debates have dwelt on restricting online access for registered sex
offenders. The current study found that only 4% of online predators
arrested for crimes against youth victims were registered sex
offenders, as were 2% of those arrested for soliciting undercover
investigators. Thus, it is important for the public and officials to
know that policies targeted at registered sex offenders are aimed at
a very small part of the problem. Internet safety needs to be
designed with the assumption that most online predators are not
registered offenders and have no prior record. Thus, other
mechanisms for deterring this behavior need to be designed. -
TRENDS IN ARRESTS OF “ONLINE PREDATORS,” Janis
Wolak, et al., Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New
"There are still
zero cases reported of any registered sex offender who was booted
off MySpace being prosecuted for illegal contact occurring on
MySpace," said Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace
parent company News Corp. -
...American policy responses
to prevent or address sexual offending, particularly those enacted
within the last twenty years, have largely failed... The central
thesis of this work is that these policies have failed by choice.
Policymakers choose to focus on the most heinous sex offenders while
ignoring the most common sexual threats that people face.
Policymakers are disproportionately influenced by isolated,
high-profile cases of sexual assault committed by strangers, to the
neglect of the everyday sexual violence committed by known and
familiar family, friends, and acquaintances. This choice gives
lawmakers simple and clear political benefits but overall has made
the public less safe.
Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions,
Dr. Richard Wright (Editor), pp. 3-4.
All the attention given to
registered sex offenders gives a distorted perception of the more
likely perpetrators of sex crimes against children. According
to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93% of children who are
victims of sexual abuse are victimized by family members or
94% of those arrested for the sexual molestation of children in New
York State are first time offenders who are not listed on any
registry. To put it another way, if a child has been the victim of
sexual abuse, the odds are 4 in 1,000 that the child was victimized
by a stranger who is a registered sex offender. The odds are far
greater, 874 in 1,000, that the child was victimized by a family
member or acquaintance who is not listed on the sex offender
registry. The primary effect of sex offender registries is to give
the public a false sense of security or, conversely, to raise