Recidivism: The Great Lie of “Frightening and High”
Derek W. Logue of
Created 15 January 2018, Last Update 13 August 2018

In so many instances these individuals should never ever be allowed out for a second chance, they're ticking time bombs, its not
a questions if they a re-offend, it's a question of when they re-offend
." – Lauren Book, Current FL State Senator and victim industry
advocate [1]

There is a 90 percent likelihood of recidivism for sexual crimes against children. Ninety percent. That is the standard. That is
their record. That is the likelihood. Ninety percent.
” – Disgraced former Florida senator Mark Foley [2]

It is a common misconception even today that those who commit crimes are arrogantly breaking the law and deriving a
fiendish pleasure from getting away with it. Many people in discussing an offender will assume a hostility not too far removed
from the original hostility of the person committing the crime. Thus the old idea of revenge is continued and the possibility of
understanding the criminal is kept at a minimum.
” -- David Abrahamsen [3]


Laws targeting people convicted of sexually-based offenses were justified primarily by a myth that “once a sex offender, always a sex
offender,” and that a vast majority of those listed on the public registry will inevitably reoffend.  Media personalities, politicians, and victim
advocates will repeat this myth. Even the US Supreme Court has propagated this myth. The myth of high offense rates fuel draconian

What is recidivism? People demand an easy answer to a complex question. Anti-registry advocates recognize the importance of
answering this question:  “So it is important that these two issues related to re-offense rate that must be dealt with. The first one is; of the
people that are on the registry, what is the percentage that are involved in new sexually related crimes, and the second question is, what is
the percentage of the people on the registry that are involved in a new sexually related crime in comparison to the ordinary citizen who
have never been convicted of a sexually related crime? If in either case, there is a high re-offense rate for people on the registry, than the
justification for the law could exist, if not than the justification evaporates.” [4]

This paper is intended to cover this myth and the latest studies that debunk this most dangerous of myths.


While a lot of emphasis on recidivism rates in recent months have centered around the “Frightening and High” claims of Justice Kennedy
in Smith v Doe, it is important to realize that views on perceived recidivism rates have fluctuated wildly over the past century and a half.

In his book, “Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America,” Historian Phillip Jenkins notes that the word
“recidivism” first entered the English vernacular in the 1880s. [5]  It was not until 1894 that child sexual abuse was considered a primary
type of sex crime. [6]  The modern era reflects the moral panic of the 1930s to early 1950s, commonly known to researchers as the
“Sexual Psychopath era.” (It is worth noting the origin of this phrase can be traced back to the 1886 German book “Psychopathia
Sexualis” by Richard von Krafft-Ebing.)

Even during the height of the “Sexual Psychopath era,” there was no evidence of high re-offense rates among those convicted of sex
crimes. The (New York City) Mayor's Committee Reports on the Study of Sex Offenses, published in 1944, found that only 40 out of
555 (7%) of people convicted of sex crimes in 1930 were rearrested between 1930-1941.[7]  Paul Tappan’s NJ commission found that
“sex offenders have one of the lowest rates as ‘repeaters’ of all types of crime…Among serious crimes homicide alone has a lower rate of

During the Treatment-oriented era of the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, the viewpoint of the “sex offender changed from an incurable
threat. The term “child molester” was coined as a term to denote a petty offender, one who did not use violence or force; the term
“pedophile” fell out of favor, and the system saw most offenders as amenable to treatment, and recidivism studies continued to fid
extremely low recidivism rates.[9]  However, by the 1980s, the modern era of sex abuse panic began; renewed interest in sexual abuse
coincided with the rise of Moral Conservatism as well as the Feminist Movement. It became the one issue feminists and conservatives
could agree upon.[10]  It is here where our modern narrative on recidivism picks up.


The myth of “frightening and high” recidivism has gained a lot of attention in recent months following the oral arguments for Packingham v
North Carolina, 582 US __ (2017). The NY Times reported the State’s lawyer, Robert C. Montgomery, stated, “This court has
recognized that they have a high rate of recidivism and are very likely to do this again.” The Times NY stated the term “frightening and
high” has been “exceptionally influential. It has appeared in more than 100 lower-court opinions, and it has helped justify laws that
effectively banish registered sex offenders from many aspects of everyday life.”[11]  

This term “frightening and high” was cited by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy as he was writing for the Majority in Smith v Doe, 538 US 84
(2003), which in turn was a citation in McKune v Lile, 536 US 24 (2002). McKune, in turn cited the 1988 US Dept. of Justice report “A
Practitioner’s Guide to Treating the Incarcerated Male Sex Offender”[12] , which in turn cited a 1986 Psychology Today article[13].  
Before addressing the origin of this catchphrase, we should examine the actual statements posted in the two US Supreme Court decisions.

Justice Kennedy’s words from McKune v. Lile:

Therapists and correctional officers widely agree that clinical rehabilitative programs can enable sex offenders to manage their
impulses and in this way reduce recidivism. See U.S. Dept. of Justice, Nat. Institute of Corrections, A Practitioner’s Guide to
Treating the Incarcerated Male Sex Offender xiii (1988) (“[T]he rate of recidivism of treated sex offenders is fairly consistently
estimated to be around 15%,” whereas the rate of recidivism of untreated offenders has been estimated to be as high as 80%.
“Even if both of these figures are exaggerated, there would still be a significant difference between treated and untreated
individuals”)… The critical first step in the Kansas Sexual Abuse Treatment Program (SATP), therefore, is acceptance of
responsibility for past offenses. This gives inmates a basis to understand why they are being punished and to identify the traits
that cause such a frightening and high risk of recidivism.

Here is the passage recited in Smith v Doe mere months after the McKune decision:

Alaska could conclude that a conviction for a sex offense provides evidence of substantial risk of recidivism. The legislature’s
findings are consistent with grave concerns over the high rate of recidivism among convicted sex offenders and their
dangerousness as a class. The risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is “frightening and high.” McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24,
34 (2002); see also id., at 33 (“When convicted sex offenders reenter society, they are much more likely than any other type of
offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual assault” (citing U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex
Offenses and Offenders 27 (1997); U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1983,
p. 6 (1997))

Returning to the original source of the frightening and high claim, Ira Ellman, professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’
Connor College of Law, wrote a scathing critique of this dubious claim, including breaking down the origin of the frightening and high claim:

McKune provides just one citation for its much-quoted statement: a 1988 Justice Department ‘Practitioner’s Manual’. That
reference likely came from the amicus brief supporting Kansas filed by the Solicitor General, then Ted Olson, which also cites it.
This Practitioner’s Guide itself provides but one source for the claim, but it’s no scientific study. It’s a 1986 article from
Psychology Today, a mass market magazine aimed at a lay audience, which had this sentence: “Most untreated sex offenders
released from prison go on to commit more offenses–indeed, as many as 80% do.” Freeman-Longo, R., & Wall, R, Changing a
lifetime of sexual crime, Psychology Today (1986). That sentence is a bare assertion with no supporting reference. Nor did its
author have the scientific credentials needed to qualify at trial as an expert on recidivism.  He was a counselor, not a scholar,
and the article containing the sentence isn’t about recidivism statistics. It’s about a counseling program for sex offenders he
then ran in an Oregon prison. His unsupported assertion about the recidivism rate for untreated sex offenders was offered to
contrast with his equally unsupported assertion about the lower recidivism rate for those who complete his program.

In response to Professor Ellman’s study, the David Post of the Washington Post wrote:

It appears to be an unfortunate, but crystal-clear, illustration of the cognitive bias that leads people — even Supreme Court
justices — to believe statements that confirm preconceived beliefs without demanding any actual evidence in support. What the
court really should have said — the only statement that would have been consistent with the facts before it — was:

‘The author of some article published in Psychology Today thinks that the recidivism rate is frightening and high, possibly as
high as 80%.’

Not quite as impressive that way, and an awfully thin reed on which to rest the crushing burdens that these prohibitions and
restrictions impose.

Yes, it is entirely possible that Justice Kennedy engaged in confirmation bias. He chose to ignore much of the research cited in the 1988
study. The NY Times describes this 1988 Practitioner’s guide as, “a compendium of papers from outside experts, is 231 pages long, and
it contains lots of statistics on sex offender recidivism rates. Many of them were in the single digits, some a little higher. Only one source
claimed an 80 percent rate, and the guide itself said that number might be exaggerated.”[17]  On page 65 of the Practitioner’s guide,
numerous studies written by various treatment programs show long term sex crime re-offense rates for treated offenders between 0%
-30% and untreated offenders between 10%-37%, though it should be noted that these were all studies from hospitals with intensive
treatment programs. In other words, they were programs for offenders deemed high risk and not indicative of the re-offense rates of the
entire class of people convicted of sex crimes.

The general public believes that roughly three-fourths of those convicted of sex crimes will reoffend.[18]  The belief system has become
cyclical—the public believes recidivism is high because of “experts” like media personalities and courts, and these personalities in turn
believe recidivism is high because the general public believes it. It is imperative to address this most dangerous of myth due to the impact it
has on public policy. As Reason magazine reports, “These numbers matter because fear of recidivism is at the heart of the harsh and
sweeping policies aimed at sex offenders, including mandatory minimum sentences, indefinite civil confinement after prison, lifelong
registration, residence and presence restrictions, occupational bans, and stigmatizing passports. The risk that sex offenders will commit
new crimes is relevant not only in justifying these measures on policy grounds but in resolving constitutional issues such as whether
registration and all the burdens associated with it should be viewed as punishment or as regulations promoting public safety.”[19]  


The problem with recidivism numbers is that it is the application is that there really is no universal standard for defining it. Every study
varies greatly, which influences numbers. Time frame, definition of actions that are considered reoffending, and other factors play key roles
in recidivism. However, society demands a simplistic answer to a complicated question. As time has gone on, even those within the sex
offender legal reform movement has evolved their understanding of recidivism.

For example, the largest study and the most cited study is the 2003 US Dept. of Justice study what cited a rearrest rate of 5.3% and a
reconviction rate of 3.5%after 3 years.[20]   Over the years, many legal reformists recite the rearrest rate as the official recidivism rate.
Many have even simply stated recidivism rate is just 5%. However, this is one study, and few individuals have even mentioned the large
discrepancy (40%) between the rearrest rate and reconviction rate, nor is an explanation offered in the study itself.

The simplest definition of recidivism is the rate at which an offender will commit another crime. However, studies vary greatly on what
constitutes “recidivism.” Harris and Hanson’s 2004 survey of available recidivism studies, found a variety of factors that greatly influence
the final numbers of each study:

  1. How the word “recidivism” is defined; re-conviction rates, re-arrest rates, informal reports to child agencies, self-reporting,
    violations of conditional release, or simply being questioned by police. The broader the definition, the higher the number, obviously.
  2. Follow-up period: The longer the follow-up period, obviously the higher the number. However, the longer the individual remains
    offense free, the less likely the offender will be to re-offend
  3. Diversity among sex offenders: Certain classes of offenders have differing re-offense rates
  4. Determining the percentage of crimes that go unreported to the police. This is usually achieved by victimization surveys. One major
    problem, however, is the definition of “sexual assault.” The researchers noted a study by Besserer and Trainor (2000) study, noting
    that study used “a very broad definition of sexual assault,” including all unwanted forms of sexual touching and threats, and possibly
    “behaviors not conforming to the popular image of a sexual offense.” The researchers noted that 59% of the respondents of this
    study stated the reason they did not report was because they felt the “incident was not important enough” to report. “Consequently,
    readers may wonder what counts as a sexual assault.”[21]  

The 1988 Practitioner’s guide recognized the problem with defining recidivism. To the researchers in the report, the term “re-offense” was
suggested as the term for rearrest or reconviction for a sexually based offense. They suggested that rearrest is the more liberal of the two
rates but could compensate for possible underreporting.[22]  Most studies today use either rearrest rate, reconviction rates, or both. To
reiterate, recidivism is generally used to define rearrest or reconviction for any offense, which could include supervision violations, whereas
re-offense is typically used to measure the rate at which a previous convicted offender commits the same type of offense.

Some earlier reports referred to “sex specific” recidivism and “general” recidivism,[23]  but it is perhaps less confusing to use a separate
term for re-offense rates, since people imply the rates at which someone convicted of a sex crime commits a subsequent sex crime as
opposed to the rate at which someone convicted of a sex crime breaks any law or supervision rule.

Having a universal definition will help accurately reflect re-offense rates in America; using numbers from foreign nations or from old studies
that largely lacked peer review and accurate record-keeping will not reflect current rates among registered citizens in the US. The reason
for settling on a universal standard finds its basis in scientific research. Ellman recognized the differences between American re-offense
rates and the re-offense rates in foreign countries, noting foreign recidivism rates would be different “without the distinctly harsh American
system of long sentences and post-release restrictions.”[24]  A 1989 meta-analysis of numerous studies also limited recidivism to North
America, noting there are “myriad factors affecting the reporting of sex offenses, arrest and conviction rates, and re-offense records,
which are likely to cause recidivism rates to be different in other countries.” This study also noted the “methodological weaknesses and
lack of uniformity,” noting many previous studies on the era focused only on “a specific type of offender (e.g., pedophiles) or a specific
treatment approach (e.g., hormonal treatments).” But even this 1989 study admitted to including unpublished studies, studies that only
used as little as 10 subjects, and studies that were “without screening for scientific merit.”[25]

Thus, for the sake of uniformity, this report will largely limit relevant studies written within the past 20 years in America and only those
using rearrest and/or reconviction rates for determining re-offense (i.e., sex offense-specific recidivism). However, it is my belief that
reconviction rates should be the gold standard, citing the discrepancy between rearrest and reconviction and the fallacy of assuming high
rates of underreporting.

It is important to note there are indeed many ways to measure recidivism, and each form of measurement has drawbacks. Below are
many of the types of measures you might find in various studies and the potential fallacy of reliance on particular measure:

  1. Self-Reporting: Studies that have relied on self-reporting might find high numbers of reoffending, but self-reports often come from
    programs where inmates are rewarded by giving the desired answers. A recent example of this came from the debunked Butner
    study, which made the bold claim that 85% of inmates who were arrested for CP charges had also committed hands-on offenses
    that have gone undetected. One US District Court rejected that study, finding it “highly coercive,” “not peer reviewed,” and
    suffering from “methodological flaws.”[26]  
  2. Rearrest Rates: The drawback to relying on rearrest rates is the probability that a person is arrested but not convicted of an actual
    re-offense. The landmark 2003 US Department of Justice study reported a 5.3% rearrest rate after 3 years, but only a 3.5%
    reconviction rate in that same period. That is a very large discrepancy the study failed to address.
  3. Reconviction rates: In my personal opinion, reconviction rates offer the best standard for measuring re-offense because of the
    added filter of a court process. However, since the majority of cases are decided by pleas (even innocent people who plead guilty),
    that fact can still overestimate the results.
  4. Re-incarceration rates: Since many people are placed on parole/ supervision upon release, many also return to prison for technical
    violations that may be sexual in nature (such as viewing adult porn) but not necessarily a sexual offense. The Ohio 10 year
    recidivism study released in 2001 broke down recidivism by type and found only 8% were recommitted for a re-offense while 3%
    were recommitted to prison on sex-related technical violations.[27]

While my personal viewpoint is that reconviction rates give the best indication of re-offense rates, most studies rely upon re-offense rates,
so both rates are shared here.

One solution to clear up confusion with seeming fluctuating numbers would be to create an annual rate from these numbers. For example,
we use annual rates to determine the average number of fatalities caused by lightning strikes [28] or the murder rate in a metropolitan area
like Cincinnati.[29]  It makes sense from a practical standpoint, as many agencies are prone to cherry-picking the numbers that best align
with their philosophy and goals.


Now that we have limited our look at re-offense to American studies from the past 20 years and only considering rearrest and
reconviction for subsequent sex offenses, it is time to look at a number of studies meeting this criteria. (Since some studies show both
rates, some studies will be repeated.)[30]  

Reconviction Rates

  1. New York (1996): 34 of 556 SOs (6%) were reconvicted within 9 years of release.[31]  
  2. Iowa (2000): 14 of 434 (3.2%) were reconvicted within 4.3 years of release [32]
  3. Ohio (2001): 70 of 879 (8%) were reconvicted after 10 years [33]
  4. US Dept. of Justice/ Federal (2003): 339 of 9641 (3.5%) were reconvicted after 3 years [34]
  5. Washington State (2005): 111 of 4091 (2.7%) reconvicted after 5 years [35]
  6. Minnesota (2007): 10% of 3166 reconvicted after 8.4 years [36]
  7. California (2008): 121 of 3577 (3.4%) reconvicted after 10 years [37]
  8. Arizona (2009): 2 of 290 (0.7%) reconvicted after 3 years [38]
  9. Connecticut (2012): 20 of 746 (2.7%) reconvicted after 5 years [39]
  10. Nebraska Pre-AWA (2013): 48 of 2816 (1.7%) reconvicted after 2 years [40]
  11. Nebraska post-AWA (2013): 6 of 209 (2.6%) reconvicted after 2 years [41]
  12. Michigan (2014): 32 of 4109 (0.8%) reconvicted after 3 years [42]

Rearrest Rates

  1. US Dept. of Justice (2003): 517 of 9641 (5.3%) rearrested after 3 years [43]
  2. Rutgers U. (2005): 4.5% of 917 rearrested after 3.5 years [44]
  3. Alaska (2007): 3% rearrested after 3 years [45]
  4. Multistate Study (2009): After 3 years, each state in the study varied in rearrest rates:
  • Delaware: 3.8%
  • Illinois: 2.4%
  • Iowa: 3.9%
  • New Mexico: 1.8%
  • South Carolina: 4%
  • Utah: 9% [47]
  1. New Jersey (2011): 13% of 274 pre-SOR SOs rearrested within 8 years; 9.7% of 248 post-SOR SOs rearrested within 8 years
  2. Florida/ New Jersey/ Minnesota/ South Carolina (2012): 153 of 1469 (13.7%) rearrested after 10 years [48]
  3. US Department of Justice/ Federal (2014): 5.6% rearrested after 5 years [49]
  4. California (2016): 78 of 1626 (4.8%) rearrested after 5 years [50]

Based on the numbers from this list, it is reasonable to assert that dozens of state, federal and University studies have found re-offense
rates to be extremely low, with nearly all studies showing long term re-offense rates in the single digits. However, some continue to be
unsatisfied with the results of the numerous studies. There is one major problem with citing the numbers of these studies, namely each
study varies in the number of years. (It should also be noted that the US Dept. of Justice study was limited to child sex offenders and
rapists, i.e., “hands on offenders,” and only of those released from prison.) Again, this stresses the importance of a universal annual rate

Below are the aforementioned studies adjusted into an Average Annual Rate:

Average Annual Rate: Reconviction

  1. New York (1996): 0.66%
  2. Iowa (2000): 0.74%
  3. Ohio (2001): 0.8%
  4. US Dept. of Justice/ Federal (2003): 1.16%
  5. Washington State (2005): 0.54%
  6. Minnesota (2007): 1.19%
  7. California (2008): 0.34%
  8. Arizona (2009): 0.23%
  9. Connecticut (2012): 0.54%
  10. Nebraska Pre-AWA (2013): 0.85% [51]
  11. Nebraska post-AWA (2013): 1.3% [52]
  12. Michigan (2014): 0.26%

Average Annual Rate: Rearrest Rates

  1. US Dept. of Justice (2003): 1.77%
  2. Rutgers U. (2005): 1.29%
  3. Alaska (2007): 1%
  4. Multistate Study (2009):
  • Delaware: 1.27%
  • Illinois: 0.8%
  • Iowa: 1.3%
  • New Mexico: 0.6%
  • South Carolina: 1.34%
  • Utah: 3%
  1. New Jersey (2011): 1.63% pre-SOR SOs; 1.21% post-SOR SOs
  2. Florida/ New Jersey/ Minnesota/ South Carolina (2012): 1.37%
  3. US Department of Justice/ Federal (2014): 1.12%
  4. California (2016): 0.96%

When adjusted into a yearly average, the annual re-arrest/reconviction rates hover at a mere 1% rate for the majority of studies. It is no
small wonder many organizations and possibly some researchers show reluctance to adopt this universal standard.


There is one key caveat in discussing recidivism studies—each study assigns overall risk to an individual whose risk factors may be higher
or lower. A number of factors influence the likelihood of reoffending, such as the length of time since an offender’s release, the type of
offense committed, whether or not the offender received treatment, and whether or not the offender has multiple convictions on his record.
It is also important to address the underreporting myth and a misleading statement that comes from the US Department of Justice study.

The Recidivism Curve: Reoffense risk lowers the longer one has been free from incarceration

Recidivism studies function the same way—you take a pool of offenders and follow them for a set amount of time (generally a number of
years), and count how many are accused or convicted of another sex crime after sentencing or release from prison. It sounds simple
enough, but the problem with determining averages is a higher number raises the average. Cumulative totals break the law of gravity—
what goes up never goes down. Cumulative totals give imperfect numbers that assign a universal number that may be too high for low-risk

The Ohio DRC found that “Sex offenders who returned for a new sex related offense did so within a few years of release.  Of all the sex
offenders who came back to an Ohio prison for a new sex offense, one half did so within two years, and two-thirds within three years.”

A 2009 NY Recidivism study found that sex offence recidivism rates after 1 year were 2%, 3% after five years, 6% after 5 years, and
8% after 8 years. [54]  A 2008 California study found a 2.21% recidivism after 1 year of release, 2.94% recidivism after 2 years of
release: 3.3% recidivism after 5 years of release, and 3.38% after 10 years of release. The study concluded, “The total of sexual
recidivists is lower than some might have believed. Most re-offenses and parole violations occur in the initial period of reentry after
release. Sex offenders are more likely to commit some other type of offense than to commit a new sex offense.” [55]

Researchers Karl Hanson and Andrew Harris noted, “Another factor to consider is the length of the follow-up period.  As the follow-up
period increases, the cumulative number of recidivists can only increase.  It is important to remember, however, that an increase in the
number of recidivists is not the same as an increase in the yearly rate of recidivism.  For all crimes (and almost all behaviours) the
likelihood that the behaviour will reappear decreases the longer the person has abstained from that behaviour.  The recidivism rate within
the first two years after release from prison is much higher than the recidivism rate between years 10 and 12 after release from prison.”
[56]  Harris and Hanson found that the 5 year recidivism rate for offenders who have been out  of prison  five years was 7%; among
offenders out 10 years, 5%; and among offenders out 15 years, 4%. [57]  

As previously noted, the Harris and Hanson study’s results for overall recidivism study was not used to determine American re-offense
rates because the Harris and Hanson study included foreign recidivism data. However, many advocate groups quote this study, at least
seemingly in part because it gives a higher number than American studies. The Harris and Hanson study offered recidivism rates for 5 year
increments, with an overall cumulative recidivism rate after 14% after 5 years, 20% after 10 years, and 24% after 15 years. Put another
way, in the first five years, overall re-offense rates were 14%, but between years 5-10, 6% of the cumulative total reoffended, and
between 10-15 years, only 5% reoffended, which validates the study’s proclamation that “an increase in the number of recidivists is not
the same as an increase in the yearly rate of recidivism.

Harris and Hanson conducted a follow-up study in 2014, categorizing subjects by perceived risk levels based upon actuarial risk-
assessment test (specifically, the Static-99R). “As can be seen from Figure 1, the risk of reoffending was highest in the first few years
following release, and declined thereafter. This pattern was particularly strong for the high-risk offenders. During the first year after
release, 7% reoffended, and during the first five years after release, a total of 22% reoffended... No high-risk sexual offender in this
sample reoffended after 16 years offense-free (126 high-risk cases started year 17, of which 61 were followed for 5 years or more). …
Whereas the 10-year sexual recidivism rate of the high-risk offenders from time of release was 28.8%, the rate declined to 12.5% for
those who remained offense-free for 5 years, then 6.2% for those who remained offense free for 10 years... A 10-year sexual recidivism
rate of 6.2% for the high-risk group (10 years offense-free) was less than the expected rate of moderate risk offenders from time-at-
release (10.4%)… Inspection of Table 2 indicates that the expected recidivism rates were approximately cut in half for each 5 years that
the offender was sexual offense–free in the community. For example, the 5-year sexual recidivism rate of the high-risk groups was 22.0%
at release, 8.6% after 5 years, and 4.2% after 10 years offense-free. The same pattern applied to the moderate risk offenders (and the full
sample). In contrast, the recidivism rates for the low-risk offenders were consistently low (1%-5%), and did not change meaningfully
based on years offense-free. For example, the 10-year sexual recidivism rate for the low-risk offenders was 3.1% from time of release
and 3.4% for those who remained offense-free in the community for 10 years.” [58]

The 2014 Hanson et al. study concluded, “The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which high-risk sexual offenders remain
high risk over time. As has been found for general offenders and violent offenders, the risk of sexual recidivism was highest in the first few
years after release, and then decreased the longer they remained offense-free in the community. The decline in hazard rates was greatest
for sexual offenders who had been identified as high risk at time of release. For low-risk offenders, time free had little influence: their risk
was consistently low (1%-5%). The same relative risk reductions were observed for subgroups categorized by age at release, treatment
involvement, country, and victim type. The current findings indicate static risk factors (e.g., prior offenses, victim characteristics) are valid,
but time-dependent, markers for risk-relevant propensities. If high-risk sexual offenders do not reoffend when given the opportunity to do
so, then there is clear evidence that they are not as high risk as initially perceived. The current study found that, on average, their
recidivism risk was cut in half for each 5 years that they remained offense-free in the community.” [59]

The 2014 Hanson et al. study found that in time, the recidivism risk posed by most offenders becomes equal with that of-non-sexual
offenders released from prison, and recidivism risk is generally cut in half for each five-year increment an offender is free in the community:
“Although the moral consequences of sexual offending may last forever, the current results suggest that sexual offenders who remain
offense-free could eventually cross a ‘redemption’ threshold in terms of recidivism risk, such that their current risk for a sexual crime
becomes indistinguishable from the risk presented by nonsexual offenders. Previous large sample studies have found that the likelihood of
an “out of the blue” sexual offense committed by offenders with no history of sexual crime is 1% to 3%: 1.1% after 4 years (Duwe,
2012); 1.3% after 3 years (Langan, Schmitt, & Durose, 2003); 3.2% after 4.5 years (Wormith, Hogg, & Guzzo, 2012). In comparison,
only 2 of 100 moderate-risk sexual offenders in the current study committed a new sexual offense during a 5-year followup period if they
were able to remain 10 years offense-free in the community. The high-risk offenders in the current sample, however, never fully resembled
nonsexual offenders. Although their recidivism rates declined substantially when they were 10 years offense-free, the 5-year recidivism
rate of the initially high-risk offenders (4.2%) was still higher than the expected rate for nonsexual offenders (1%-3%).” [60]

The bottom line is that even for those registrants labeled a “high risk,” recidivism dramatically decreases, and that recidivism decreases
dramatically within the first three to five years of release. Many researchers agree that emphasis for rehabilitation should focus on the first
three years of release.

Offense Types do play a role in recidivism, but beware of stat manipulation

While the Harris and Hanson study is not useful to determine American reoffense rates, it is still useful for showing recidivism differences
between specific offense types, implying a need to divide recidivism rates by offender type. In order from, least likely to re-offend to most
likely to re-offend (in parentheses, recidivism rates after 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years):

1.        Extended Incest Child Molesters (6%, 9%, 13%)
2.        “Girl Victim” Child Molesters (9%, 13%, 16%)
3.        Rapists (14%, 21%, 24%)
4.        “Boy Victim” Child Molesters (23%, 28%, 35%)

Also worth noting, the Harris and Hanson study also found that one time offenders (10%, 15%, 19%) reoffended lower than those who
had two or more prior convictions (25%, 32%, 37%). [61]  

A 2005 study by Seto and Eke found that those convicted of child pornography offenses alone reoffended at a lower rate than an
offender arrested for both CP offenses and other sex crimes. They also found a 6% CP recidivism rate with a 4% rate for a contact
sexual offense among 201 subjects of varying periods with an average follow-up period of about 2.6 years. “Child pornography offenders
who had ever committed a contact sexual offense were the most likely to reoffend. These group differences could be detected even
though the overall rate of sexual recidivism was low (4%). Only one of the offenders with only child pornography offenses committed a
contact sexual offense in the follow-up period.” [62]  

A Marshall and Barbaree 1990 study found an even greater discrepancy between those sex offenders with the lowest recidivism rates
(Incest offenders, 4%-10%) and those with the highest (Exhibitionists, 41%-71%). [63]  

Breaking the general “sex offender” group into specific offense categories could be seen as integral for risk management.

The Myth and Misrepresentation of "Unique Risk" and the "Degree of Specialization"

“Sex offenders are four times more likely to re-offend sexually than non-sex offenders” is a mantra that proponents of sex offender
legislation love to quote often, even influencing the outcome of the McKune v Lile case. The 2003 US Dept. of Justice study notes 5.3%
of sex offenders released in 1994 were arrested for a new sex offense in 3 years, while 1.3% of all non-sex offenders were arrested for a
sex crime. There are two issues with this line of logic.

First of all, specialization is no more common for sex offenders than any other type of offender; thieves are more likely to steal, drug
offenders are more likely to commit drug crimes, et cetera. Furthermore, strong evidence suggests people convicted of sexual offenses
actually specialize at a lower rate than most other offenses. The 2000 Michigan Parole Board study shows people convicted of sexual
offenses committed subsequent sexual offenses (2.46%) at a lower rate than forgers committing forgery (6.86%), burglars committing
burglary (10.56%), robbers committing robbery (5.17%), drug offenders committing drug crimes (6.42%),  and larcenists committing
larceny (12.65%). [64]

"Langan and Levin found that 2.5% of rapists were rearrested for rape within three years of release from prison and the DOJ found that
3.3% of child molesters were arrested for another sex crime against a child during that same period. In contrast, during that same three
year period, Langan and Levin found that 13.4% of robbers were rearrested for robbery; twenty-two percent of assailants were
rearrested for assault; 23.4% of burglars were rearrested for burglary; 33.9% of thieves were rearrested for larceny/theft; 11.5% of car
thieves were rearrested for the same; and 41.2% of drug offenders were rearrested for a drug crime. The only released offenders who
had a lower specialized recidivism rate than rapists and child molesters were those who had been convicted of homicide. Just 1.2% of
offenders were rearrested for homicide within three years after release from prison"[65]

Secondly, the statement takes places emphasis on people convicted of recidivist sexual offenses, while failing to address the fact people
convicted of sexual offenses commit only a small percentage of sex crimes that occur every year. Going by number of offenders rather
than percentages, The 2003 US Dept. of Justice study found that 517 sex offenders committed a new sex crime, while 3,228 non-sex
offenders committed sex crimes, roughly six times the number of sex offenders committing sex crimes. Consider also the following statistic
from the US Dept. of Justice (1997) study which found 86% (about 6 of 7) of inmates in prison on sex crimes were first time offenders;
only 14% had previous sex crimes.[66]  Thus, this misleading statement convolutes the bigger picture and is a nonsensical stat promoted
simply to increase fear of people convicted of sexual offenses.

The Underreporting Myth

One of the most prevailing myths tied to recidivism as a way to downgrade the dozens of studies concluding re-offense rates among those
convicted of sexual offenses as low is the opinion that large amount of recidivism goes undetected. This myth persistently pops up in
conversations about recidivism despite a lack of evidence of any connection between recidivism rates and reporting. The statement is a
red herring designed to connect the two assumptions together to make the receiver of the message assume a high number of unreported
sex crimes must be the result of registered sex offenders, in turn justifying stricter sanctions. Because there is no true way of proving or
disproving the amount of unreported sex crimes, victim industry advocates can proclaim astronomical claims of 90% or more undetected
crim4es without worrying about expert rebuttals.

The 2004 Hanson and Harris study discussed the difficulty in addressing underreporting long before the explosion of sexual misconduct
claims in the latter half of the 2010s:

“The Besserer and Trainor (2000) study showed that sexual assault had the highest percentage of incidents that were not reported to
police (78%).  When respondents were asked why they did not report sexual victimization to the police, 59% of the respondents stated
that the “incident was not important enough” to report.  Consequently, readers may wonder what counts as a sexual assault. The Besserer
and Trainor (2000) victimization study used a very broad definition of sexual assault.  They counted all attempts at forced sexual activity,
all unwanted sexual touching, grabbing, kissing, and fondling, as well as threats of sexual assault (Jennifer Tuffs, personal communication,
January 15, 2003). Their broad definition undoubtedly included some behaviours that do not conform to the popular image of a sexual
offence. All unwanted sexual advances are wrong, possibly criminal, and have the potential to do psychological harm to the victim.  As a
society, however, we need to decide whether we wish to count an unwanted touch on the buttocks as an unreported sexual crime.  
Coming to an agreement on what constitutes a sexual crime will be a difficult task.”[67]

The US Department of Justice conducts the “National Crime Victimization Survey” (NCVS) biennially, which measures various crime
statistics, whether reported or not. The NCVS studies estimates of non-reporting and the reasons for non-reporting. The 2003 NCVS
found that 67.3% of rapes and attempted rapes (attempts included verbal threats of sexual violence) and 53.2% of sexual assaults go
unreported (Table 91). The NCVS found numerous reasons for lack of reporting; the reasons are as follows: Private/ Personal matter
(17.1%), Offender unsuccessful (11.4%), Fear of reprisal (11.2%), Lack of proof (10.6%), Police would not want to be bothered
(7.4%), Reported to another official (7.1%), Not aware crime occurred until later (4.9%), Not important enough (3.7%), Police
inefficient, ineffective, biased (3.7%), Too inconvenient, time consuming (3.7%), No way to ID (2.8%), and “Other reasons” (18%). [68]

One major influence in the decision to report a crime is victim-offender relationship.  The 2005 NCVS [69] Table 104 illustrates this
major difference between non-reporting with a stranger offender and an offender known to him. Among the top reasons for non-reporting
when a stranger is involved: Reported to another official (49.6%), Police don’t want to  be bothered  (19.9%), Offender unsuccessful
(12.7%), Fear of reprisal (11%), and Police inefficient, ineffective, or biased (6.9%). Among the top reasons for non-reporting when a
non-stranger is involved: Other Reasons (47%), Private or personal matter (31.1%), Police don’t want to be bothered (10.8%), Report
to another official (5.1%), Police ineffective, inefficient, biased (2.8%), and Too incontinent, time consuming (2.4%).

The NCVS defines sexual assault as “A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks
or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve
force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats.” Rape is defined as “Forced sexual
intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal or oral
penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle.
Includes attempted rapes, male as well as female victims and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted rape includes verbal
threats of rape.”

The NCVS is very thorough, but there are a few problems. Firstly, it combines actual crimes with threats of crimes in many places; Table
1 of the NCVS divides reported rapes (72,240) and attempted rape (44,650), but combines sexual assault with attempt (81,950).
Secondly, the reports are limited to crimes involving people age 12 and older, no children.  Thirdly, the phrase “verbal threats” is a rather
vague term. Still, the NCVS is the most likely source for under-reporting estimates. That being said, there are many reasons why certain
crimes go unreported.

In an attempt to rectify certain issues with the NCVS, the DOJ conducted a study called “Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported
to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics” in 2000. [70]  Since the NCVS only relates to victims 12+ years of
age, the study relied on the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).  While there is no feasible way to survey children
on unreported sex crimes, this study offers up another X factor to further complicate the issue: the number of sexual assaults committed by
juveniles who are likely not a registered sex offender. The study found that juveniles made up 23.2% of total sex crimes against children:
40% of offenders of children under age 6 and 39% of offenders against children ages 7-11 were juveniles; and the single age with the
greatest number of offenders is 14 (p. 8).

The unreported numbers reported in the NCVS had been steadily declining over the first decade of the new millennium, yet is rising in the
2010s. No adequate explanation or assumption is offered in the NCVS reports. It could be speculated that increased exposure to
awareness campaigns such as the campus sexual assault stories, #MeToo and sex trafficking stories that have dominated the airwaves
during the 2010s have influenced these numbers, but there are no studies that have studied this phenomenon, so the impact of these
campaigns on the number of unreported reports cannot be full determined (remember: correlation is not causation). The numbers from the
NCVS below should be taken only with extreme caution given the nature of our ever-changing definitions of sexual assault.

  • 2003 NCVS: 67.3% of rapes and attempted rapes (attempts included verbal threats of sexual violence) and 53.2% of sexual
    assaults go unreported
  • Between 2003-2005, sex assaults/ rapes were consolidated
  • 2005 NCVS: 61.7% of rapes/ sexual assaults go unreported
  • 2010 NCVS: 50% of rapes/ sexual assaults go unreported [71]
  • 2014 NCVS: 66.4% of rapes/ sexual assaults go unreported [72]
  • 2016 NCVS: 77% of rapes/ sexual assaults go unreported [73]

Researcher Debra Patkin states that under-reporting for crime in general is under-reported; citing the 1999 NCVS, Patkin notes 64% of
overall crime goes unreported [74]. Thus, the idea that sex crimes go reported at a uniquely higher rate than other crimes is another myth.

In short, it is rather difficult to sufficiently determine just how many factors impact the ability to estimate exactly how many crimes go
unreported. On one hand, there are a number of sex crimes going unreported. On the other hand, what are the reasons for the under-
reporting? Also, how do we even determine a base number to use to determine the total number of actual sex crimes being committed by
people old enough to be sexual recidivists?  Do we count verbal threats as bona fide sex crimes or not? In fairness, what about the
number of false allegations? A number of recent exonerations of convicted rapists as a result of DNA evidence immediately come to mind.
And sadly, sex crimes are typically he-said-she-said events. Even if we could somehow come up with a formula that accurately portrays
the amount of unreported crimes in general, how can we truly determine the number of registered citizens that have committed these acts?
In reality, this line of thinking merely serves to attempt to downplay an undesired result, namely, people convicted of sexual offenses have
a lower recidivism rate than other offenders.

The Impact of Megan’s Law on Recidivism

Proponents of Megan’s Law argue the low re-offense rates are the result of the impact of Megan’s Law, but no studies have reached
such a conclusion. A 2008 study found no significant changes in sex crime rates in the 10 years prior to and after the enforcement of
Megan’s Law in New York State in 1997. “[R]esults of the analyses indicate that the 1996 enactment of SORA (and thus the beginning
of the registry) had no significant impact on rates of total sexual offending, rape, or child molestation, whether viewed as a whole or in
terms of offenses committed by first-time sex offenders or those committed by previously convicted sex offenders (i.e., repeat offenders).”
[75]  It is important to note that a number of researchers warn Megan’s Law might actually contribute to recidivism through the stress and
ostracism it creates. Psychologist John Q. LaFond points out a Washington state study that found notification laws do not prevent crime;
instead, it leads to quicker  arrest times, either by the constant scrutiny, or by disrupting employment, housing, and support for the sex
offender, causing stress and increasing the likelihood of recidivism.[76]

“As former offenders are denied opportunities to reintegrate into society and stigmatized, they lose hope. Stigmatized offenders are more
likely to recidivate than reintegrated offenders, as the resistance to recidivate diminishes among offenders who are ostracized. On the
other hand, a ‘pro-social identity,’ including concrete recognition of their reform, is integral to reducing recidivism.”[77]

“Employment problems experienced by the RSO, and subsequent financial hardships, emerged as the most pressing issue identified by
family  members. The likelihood of housing disruption was correlated with residential restriction laws; larger buffer distances led to
increased frequencies of housing crisis. Family members living with an RSO were more likely to experience threats and harassment by
neighbors. Children of RSOs reportedly experienced adverse consequences including stigmatization and differential treatment by teachers
and classmates. More than half had experienced ridicule, teasing, depression, anxiety, fear, or anger. Unintended consequences can
impact family members’ ability to support RSOs in their efforts to avoid recidivism and successfully reintegrate.”[78]

There is one other important issue to consider in discussions about disruptions to stable lives of former offenders-- Failure To Register
(FTR). Often, registrants arrested for failure to register can exacerbate the myth of recidivism since news reports often highlight the
relatively few arrested during a "compliance check" operation. [79] A 2018 report published on The Appeal found that more than three
times as many registrants were arrested for an FTR than for suspicion of committing a sex crime in Franklin Co., PA in 2016. [80] . A
2010 study found FTR had not influence on sex crime rates whatsoever: "With respect to failure to register (FTR) as a sex offender, no
significant differences were found between the sexual recidivism rates of registered offenders with FTR charges and those without FTR
charges (11% vs. 9%, respectively). There was no significant difference in the proportion of sexual recidivists and nonrecidivists with
registration violations (12% and 10%, respectively). Failure to register did not predict sexual recidivism, and survival  analyses revealed
no significant difference in time to recidivism when comparing those who failed to register (M = 2.9 years) with compliant registrants (M =
2.8 years)." [81]

OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS: Addressing the controversial Langevin and Prentky Studies

Two influential studies stand out as having the most outlandish recidivism claims, the 1997 Pentky study, which claims child molesters have
a recidivism rate of 52%, and the 2004 Langevin study, which makes a bold claim that “sex offenders” have a 90%-94% recidivism rate.
Oftentimes these studies are used by victim industry advocates and lawmakers when promoting draconian sex crime legislation.

The Prentky Study: Outdated, Limited Data

The 1997 Prentky study made the controversial claim that after 25 years sex offenders' recidivism is 52% for child molesters and 39% for
rapists.[82]  Prentky’s findings were cited in amici briefs filed in favor of the registry during the Smith v Doe hearings. However, there
were a number of issues with this study. First, eAdvocate points out Prentky himself offered a warning against applying his study to
determine long-term recidivism in a subsequent study: “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.” Prentky’s warning,
however, was not in the study that first mentions this study, but in a later study in the series.[83]

The study involved recidivists who were civilly committed between 1959 and 1985. “It was also the case that Prentky’s sample of
molesters were highly likely to recidivate because they were convicted of many more sex offenses (N=4.6) than a more typical sample of
incarcerated sex offenders, about 90% of whom have been convicted of only one sex offense.”[84]  

One thing that critics have failed to point out is that the 52% number is not the actual re-offense rate, but an estimate called the survival or
failure rate, “i.e., the estimated probability that child molesters would ‘survive’ in the community without being charged, convicted, or
imprisoned for a sexual offense over the 25-year study period.”[85]  The actual re-offense rates of the previously-committed repeat
offenders were actually similar to the findings by the later Harris and Hanson study. It should be noted the actual length of the study period
varied by subject, since each subject was released over a 25-year span. Overall, 32% of those in the study were rearrested with an
average length of 3.64 years before re-arrest, and a 25% reconviction rate with an average time frame of 3.98 years before reconviction.
[86]  In terms of actual numbers, 78 out 115 subjects were never charged with any offense, 8 were charged but not convicted, and 29
were convicted of a subsequent sex crime.[87]  Like many other recidivism studies, most offenses occurred within the first few years of

Even the SMART Office recognizes the Prentky study’s flaws: “Prentky and colleagues acknowledged that generalizing the recidivism
rates found in the study to other samples of sex offenders was problematic due to the ‘marked heterogeneity of sex offenders,’ but they
also suggested that the ‘crucial point to be gleaned from this study is the potential variability of the rates’ and not the specific rates

In short, the Prentky Study is merely an estimated rate of success of a group of recidivists based upon a complex but convoluted formula.
The actual rates of failure by the hard numbers don’t support the 52% estimate for the small number of repeat offenders, much less people
labeled “sex offenders” as a collective unit. Even Prentky warns the results are not indicative of those on the registry in general.

The Langevin Study: The Study Purged Non-Recidivists from the Results

There is one major similarity between the Prentky Study and the Langevin study,[89] particularly the reliance on data from a single civil
commitment center as well as the 25-year follow-up period. However, Langevin’s study differs in two ways—it purged people without
rearrests after 15 years, and it expanded the definition of recidivist to include crimes committed before subjects were to be included in the

Writing for, Chris Dornin found that Langevin’s unusual methodology led to unusual results: “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.” [90]  

Non-recidivist records were purged from the Langevin study’s final tally. Karl Hanson, noting his understanding of the difficulty of
maintaining records after 15 years, added, “It appears that the way in which Langevin, Curnoe, Fedoroff, Bennett, Langevin, Peever,
Pettica, and Sandhu (2004) dealt with missing data inflated the observed recidivism rates of their sample. In an earlier report of the same
data set, Langevin and Fedoroff (2000) reported that they were able to obtain follow-up criminal history records for 378 (54%) of the
first 700 cases assessed at Dr Langevin's clinic between 1969 and 1974. In the 2004 report, the offenders lacking criminal history
records in 1994 and 1999 were eliminated from the sample. Such a decision would retain recidivists and eliminate non-recidivists. The
RCMP policies for retaining criminal history records have changed through the years, but they have always been more inclined to keep the
records of active offenders (recidivists) than to keep those of inactive offenders (non-recidivists). In 1993, for example, the purge policy
was that all convictions would be removed from the RCMP database if the offender (a) died, (b) was pardoned, or (c) attained age 70
and had no criminal activity for 10 years, or if (d) there was no recorded criminal activity for 15 years, provided that the offender was not
the subject of a current investigation (Purge Unit, RCMP 1993). Given that the follow-up period in Langevin's study was more than 15
years, all of the inactive (non-recidivist) offenders should have been deleted from the RCMP database. By selecting offenders from the
1960s with active criminal history records in the 1990s, researchers should expect to find recidivism rates close to 100%” [91]  

Hanson also noted that Langevin “used an unusual definition of recidivism that includes both prior offences and…future offences (the usual
definition of recidivism)…. In the 378 cases with follow-up information, 139 (36.8%) had subsequent convictions for sexual offences.
This figure is very similar to the long-term sexual recidivism rate (35.1%) found for another group of sexual offenders (child molesters)
from Ontario in the 1960s and 1970s followed using RCMP records (Hanson, Scott, and Steffy 1995).” [92]

Indeed, Langevin’s definition to recidivism included crimes committed BEFORE the study began, which is different than every study
before or after this study was published. “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.” [93]

A 2006 study also condemned the Langevin study as fatally flawed: “A detailed analysis of the study demonstrates that this unusually high
level is uninterpretable because the offenders whose criminal careers were followed are unlikely to be representative of sex offenders in
general. Furthermore, the measure of recidivism used in the study not only distorts the normal meaning of recidivism but also artefactually
creates an inflated - and consequently meaningless - recidivism rate.” [94]  

The Langevin study relied on a flawed definition of recidivism and purging non-recidivists (or at least a lack of any evidence of recidivism)
to come up with a meaningless study.


A 2018 study by Tamara Rice Lave and Franklin E. Zimring found the California Department of Mental Health suppressed a study by Dr.
Jesis Padilla showing just 6.5% of untreated sexually violent predators were arrested for a new contact sex crime within 4.8 years of
release from a locked mental facility (1.35% average annual rate). "A person with a score of six on the Static-99 was estimated as having
a 36% chance of being convicted of a new sexually violent offense within five years of release, a 44% chance of being convicted of a new
sexually violent offense within ten years of release, and a 53% chance of being convicted of a new sexually violent offense within fifteen
years of release.136 That means that the released SVPs performed much better than expected based on their Static-99 score. The
difference is that much more striking considering that Padilla used arrests to measure recidivism, and the creators of the Static-99 used
convictions. Since many arrests do not end up in a conviction, the disparity would have been even greater if they had both used arrests as
their basis of measurement." [95]

Lave and Zimring found that efforts to censor Padilla began when  Jon de Morales, the new head of the Sex Offender Commitment
Program, accused Padilla and Russell of illegally accessing criminal history from a particular database called CELTS. The doctor was
cleared of any wrongdoing after a 6 month investigation in 2007. After Morales took over the Atascadero civil commitment program,
Morales shut down Padilla's study, forced Padilla to turn over all files, then had the files destroyed.

"Padilla and Russell attempted to continue the study. They were told that because they were doing basic research and not program
evaluation, they would have to reapply. They submitted a new proposal to Atascadero, but were told to go through DMH. They sent the
proposal to DMH, but DMH said they could not evaluate the proposal because they did not have a human subjects committee. They then
sent the proposal to the Health and Human Services committee which oversaw DMH. Padilla received a call from the Head of Human
Subjects who told him that it was program evaluation and not basic research. They then went back to DMH, but DMH said they had to
go through Atascadero. They were now eighteen months into the process, and it took Atascadero a few more months to respond.Finally,
on March 13, 2008, Morales sent them a memorandum informing them that they could not conduct the recidivism study because they
would need “legislation or approval from the Department of Mental Health” to access the CLETS, and “[n]either ASH nor DMH would
permit ‘volunteers’ to conduct this research." At first, the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) denied having any info on Padilla's study;
only after Lave and Zimring shared Padilla's documents did DSH make a serious attempt to find the study files. Upon receiving them,
Padilla confirmed someone tampered with the files. [96]

Lave and Zimring concluded they have no definitive answer as to why the study was suppressed. "The only explanation we have comes
from Jon De Morales’s June 8, 2007 memorandum in which he writes, 'to conduct research of this type, one would need to follow
Special Order 288 and gain separate approval from the DOJ to have access to criminal Offender records.' We are dubious of this
explanation for two reasons. First, we reviewed Special Order No. 228, and it does not say anything about the special approval Morales
claimed was necessary. Second, just one month before, the independent investigation had determined that Padilla and Russell did nothing
wrong in accessing these records, even without the special approval supposedly necessary." However, one legitimate reason why the
study was suppressed  was because recidivism rates were far lower than expected (6.5% after 5 years, far lower than the 36% estimated
by the STATIC-99), a fact that surprised even Padilla. "Perhaps higher-ups at DMH had not initially paid attention to the study because
they did not expect the results," Lave and Zimring added. "Once Padilla testified, DMH may have realized the study had to be stopped
because it threatened the legitimacy of the entire SVP program. As explained earlier, the only constitutionally acceptable rationale for SVP
commitment is that offenders are so dangerous that they must be locked away, and this study showed otherwise. If the SVP law were to
be declared unconstitutional, it would threaten the $147.3 million annual budget DMH (and now Department of State Hospitals) receives
for the civil commitment program. People have done far worse than bury a study for a hundred million dollars." [97]

Lave and Zimring argues the study is important because if it can be proven that most civilly committed sexual offenders do not reoffend, it
may dispel the belief that civil commitment is a necessary institution. "[I]f SVP laws were to be declared unconstitutional, it would have a
tremendous financial impact on the institutions used to house and treat SVPs." Indeed, $288.8 million in taxpayer funds were at stake in
this industry. [98]


Trying to come up with a simple, yet conclusive, hard number for such a complex subject as re-offense rates for those convicted of sexual
offenses is difficult. There should be a universal standard, however, and the evidence presented here suggests a superior method of
presenting a true recidivism rate should be an average annual percentage rate based upon reconviction rates. Dividing the recidivism rate
by the number of years in the numerous, recent, and existing studies that focused on reconviction rates show an average recidivism rate of
roughly 1% per annum. One caveat in settling on a single number for determining recidivism is that it does not take into account the factors
that influence an individual recidivism rate, such as length of time since the last offense/ release from corrections, the offense type, and the
number of prior offenses may influence the overall rates. In addition, it is important to remember many recidivists will commit their offenses
within the first three years or so after release.

Criticism of this method will undoubtedly come from agencies that rely on Predator Panic for funding; many rely on a combination of
myths (more likely to reoffend, underreporting) and studies that promote their beliefs that all people who are convicted of sexual offenses
reoffend (such as the Prentky and Langevin studies). However, each approach is the result of skewed numbers arising primarily from
assumptions. The hard numbers simply do not support the assumption that those convicted of sex crimes pose a unique threat to society.

It is reasonable to conclude that dozens of state, federal, university, and even international studies have consistently concluded that
recidivism among those convicted of sex crimes are extremely low. This conclusion invalidates the belief that a unique and draconian series
of laws are necessary in our society.


  1. Jones, Brittany. “Petition gains support for ‘Cherish Law.’” ABC 27 WTXL. Raycom Media. 3 Sept. 2013. Web. < http://www.>
  2. Sullum, Jacob. “Perverted Justice.” 14 June 2011. Web. <
  3. Abrahamsen, David. “Family Tension, Basic Cause of Criminal Behavior.” Basic Cause of Criminal Behavior, 40 J. Crim. L. &
    Criminology 330 (1949-1950). Journal.
  4. Bassler, Will. “So Why are the Reconviction Rates So Important?” 26 June 2017. Web. <http://sosen.
  5. Jenkins, Philip. Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. Vail-Ballou Press. 1998. p39-40
  6. Ibid., p.15
  7. “The (New York City) Mayor's Committee Reports on the Study of Sex Offenses.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
    (1931-1951) Vol. 34, No. 5 (Jan. - Feb., 1944), pp. 324-327. Journal.
  8. Tappan, Paul. “New Jersey Commission on the Habitual Sex Offender.” Tenton Publishing. 1950. Book.
  9. Supra., Jenkins, p.98-100
  10. Ibid., p.120-126
  11. Liptak, Adam. “Did the Supreme Court Base a Ruling on a Myth?” NY Times. 6 Mar 2017. Web. <https://www.nytimes.
  12. Brown, Raymond C. and Moore, John E. “A Practitioner’s Guide to Treating the Incarcerated Male Sex Offender:Breaking the
    Cycle of Sexual Abuse..” US Dept. of Justice. 1988. Web. <>
  13. Freeman-Longo, R., & Wall, R, Changing a lifetime of sexual crime, Psychology Today (1986) Magazine.
  14. Note that there is a second myth here that must be addressed, the “much more likely to reoffend” myth. This statement will also be
    addressed in this report.
  15. Ira Ellman. “The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crime Statistics.” Casetext. July 25, 2015. Web. <https://casetext.
  16. Post, David. “The Volokh Conspiracy: More fuel for the movement to reform sex offender laws.” Washington Post. 18 Aug. 2015.
    Web. <
  17. Supra., Liptak, “Based on Myth”
  18. Levenson, J.S., Branon, Y. N., Fortney, T., and Baker, J. “ Public Perceptions About Sex Offenders and Community Protection
    Policies.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Vol. 7, No. 1., 1-25. 2007. Web. <http://www.sexual-offender-treatment.
  19. Sullum, Jacob. “The Lingering Impact of Justice Kennedy's Trumpesque Claim About Sex Offenders.” 8 March
    2017. Web. <>
  20. US Department of Justice, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released into the Community in 1994.” Nov. 2003.
  21. Harris, Andrew JR and Hanson, Karl. “Sex Offender Recidivism: A Simple Question.” Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
    Canada. 2004. Web. <>
  22. Ibid., Brown & Moore 1988, p. 66
  23. See Logue, Derek. “The Complexities of Sex Offender Recidivism.” Once Fallen. 2008. Web. <http://www.oncefallen.
  24. Ibid., Ellman.
  25. Furby, Lita, Weinrott, Mark, and Blackshaw, Lyn. “Sex Offender Recidivism: A Review.” Psyhological Bulletin, Vol. 105, No.
    1,3-30. 1989.
  26. United States v. Johnson, 588 F. Supp. 2d 997 (S.D. Iowa 2008)
  27. “Ten Year Recidivism Follow-up of 1989 Sex Offender Releases.” Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. April 2001.
  28. “How Dangerous is Lightning?” National Weather Service. 2017. Web. <
    shtml>. For the record, between 1987-2016, there was an average of 47 annual fatalities, though between 2007-2016, that
    number is reduced to 30.
  29. Knight, Cameron. “Cincinnati homicide rate on roller coaster pattern.” USA Today Network. 3 Jan. 2017. Web.
    <>. Note the
    murder rate stays consistently in the 60-70 range though fluctuates in small numbers.
  30. Note: A more complete recidivism study summary can be found at; for the sake of
    brevity, not all studies listed on the Once Fallen recidivism chart are listed here.
  31. “Profile and Follow-up of Sex Offenders released in 1986.” New York State Department of Correctional Services, Division of
    Program Planning, Research and Evaluation.  July 1996
  32. “THE IOWA SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY AND RECIDIVISM.” Iowa Department of Human Rights, Division of Criminal and
    Juvenile Justice Planning and Statistical Analysis Center.  December 2000. Web. <http://www.humanrights.iowa.
  33. Supra, Ohio DRC 2001
  34. Supra. US DoJ
  35. eAdvocate, “CHART: Michigan Recidivism Rates: All released sex offenders -vs- non-sex offenders.” May 5, 2009. Information
    was extrapolated from Annual Michigan Department of Corrections, Statistical Report, Parole Board Charts D2 and D2a, years
    1990 through 2000. Technical violations not included. The Statistical reports for years 1998 to current can be found under the
    “Publications and information” section of the Michigan Dept. of Corrections website,,
  36. “Sex Offender Recidivism in Minnesota.” Minnesota Dept. of Corrections. April 2007
  37. “RECIDIVISM OF PAROLED SEX OFFENDERS—TEN (10) YEAR STUDY. California Sex Offender Management Board.  
    June 2008
  38. “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from the Arizona Department of Corrections in 2001.” Arizona Criminal Justice
    Commission. February 2009
  39. “Recidivism among sex offenders in Connecticut.” State of Connecticut, Office of Policy and Management, Criminal Justice Policy
    & Planning Division. February 15, 2012
  40. “Nebraska Sex Offender Registry Study.” Consortium for Crime and Justice Research, U. of Nebraska – Omaha. July 31, 2013.
    Table 5, p.20. It is important to note that the study also found a 1 year pre-AWA re-offense rate of 18 of 2809 (0.6%), as well as
    a 5 year average of 162 of 2832 (5.7%) in a 5 year study of 4 states
  41. Ibid., Table 6; It is important to note the study also found a 1 year AWA re-offense rate of 4 of 230 (1.7%)
  42. Barbara Levine & Elsie Kettunen. "Paroling people who committed serious crimes: What is the actual risk?"  Citizens Alliance on
    Prisons & Public Spending, Dec. 1, 2014
  43. Supra, US DoJ
  44. Michelle L. Meloy, “The Sex Offender Next Door: An Analysis of Recidivism, Risk Factors, and Deterrence of Sex Offenders on
    Probation.” Criminal Justice Policy Review, Volume 16, Number 2, June 2005.  p. 211-236
  45. Alaska Judicial Council. “Criminal Recidivism in Alaska.” January 2007. This study does not break down the number or registrants
    nor offer the exact number rearrested in the study.
  46. Stan Orchowsky and Janice Iwama. “Improving State Criminal History Records: Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released in 2001.”
    Justice Research and Statistics Association, November 2009. Table 5, p. 17.
  47. Richard Tewksbury, Wesley G. Jennings and Kristen M. Zgoba. “A longitudinal examination of sex offender recidivism prior to
    and following the implementation of SORN.” Behav. Sci. Law 30: 308–328 (2012)
  48. Kristen M. Zgoba, Michael Miner, Raymond Knight, Elizabeth Letourneau, Jill Levenson, David Thornton. “A Multi-State
    Recidivism Study Using Static-99R and Static-2002 Risk Scores and Tier Guidelines from the Adam Walsh Act.” November
    2012.  Table 7, p.20
  49. "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010: Supplemental Tables: Most serious
    commitment offense and types of post-release arrest charges of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005." US Dept. of Justice. Dec.
  50. Seung C. Lee, Alejandro Restrepo, Annie Satariano, & R. Karl Hanson. "The Predictive Validity of Static-99R for Sexual
    Offenders in California: 2016 Update." State Authorized Risk Assessment Tool for Sex Offenders (CA) Committee. Gov't Report.
    July 13, 2016.
  51. Notice a discrepancy between the annual average rate and the one year rate in the UNO study.  It is important to note that the
    study also found a 1 year pre-Adam Walsh Act re-offense rate of 18 of 2809 (0.6%) and a 1 year AWA re-offense rate of 4 of
    230 (1.7%) in the study. The second year numbers deviate somewhat from the first year numbers. though the minor differences in
    the 1 year rate and the average annual rate are insignificant. The average annual rate should be different from a 1 year study result
    since the average annual rate is an average from a number of years. Thus, the one year recidivism rate for Nebraska was 0.6% for
    pre-AWA registrants, while the average annual rate from 2 years of data is 0.85%. Both numbers are statistically correct.
  52. See note 50 as this result was from the same study
  53. Supra., Ohio DRC 2001, Executive Summary
  54. New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives. “Research Bulletin: Sex Offender Populations, Recidivism
    and Actuarial Assessment.” 2009. <
  55. California Dept. of Corrections. “Recidivism of Paroled Sex Offenders- A 10 year study [Chart].” 2009. Found online at <http:
  56. Hanson, Karl and Harris, Andrew. “Sex Offender Recidivism: A Simple Question.” Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
    Canada. March  2004.  Found online at <>, p.1
  57. Ibid., p.8, Table 2
  58. R. Karl Hanson, Andrew J. R. Harris, Leslie Helmus and David Thornton. “High-Risk Sex Offenders May Not Be High Risk
    Forever.” J Interpers Violence, 2014 29: 2792 originally published online 24 March 2014. pgs.2796-2801
  59. Ibid., pgs.2801, 2805
  60. Ibid., pgs. 2806-2807
  61. Supra., Harris & Hanson 2004, p.8 Table 2
  62. Michael C. Seto and Angela W. Eke. “The Criminal Histories and Later Offending of Child Pornography Offenders.” Sexual
    Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2005.
  63. Marshall, W.L. & Barbaree, H.E. (1990). Outcomes of comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment programs. In  W.L.
    Marshall, D.R. Laws, and H.E. Barbaree (Eds.), Handbook of sexual assault: Issues, theories, and treatment of the offender (pp.
    363-385). New York: Plenum.
  64. Michigan Dept. of Corrections (2000). Recidivism Statistics: from Annually Published Michigan Dept. of  Corrections, Statistical
    Reports (Parole Board) Cumulative Parole Board Statistics for Parolees 1990 through 2000. http://sexoffender-reports.blogspot.
  65. Lave, Tamara Rice and Zimring, Frank E. "Assessing the Real Risk of Sexually Violent Predators: Doctor Padilla’s Dangerous
    Data." American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 55, 2018., Retrieved
    13 Aug 2018. p.719
  66. US Department of Justice, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released into the Community in 1994.”
  67. Supra, Hanson & Harris 2004, p.2
  68. “Criminal Victimization Statistical Tables, 2003. “US Sept. of Justice. 2004. Web. <
  69. “Criminal Victimization Statistical Tables, 2005. “US Sept. of Justice. 2006. Web. <
  70. “Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics.” US Dept. of
    Justice. 2000. Web. <>
  71. “Criminal Victimization, 2010. “US Sept. of Justice. 2011. Web. <>
  72. “Criminal Victimization, 2014. “US Sept. of Justice. 2015. Web. <>
  73. “Criminal Victimization, 2016. “US Sept. of Justice. 2017. Web. <>
  74. Patkin, Debra. “Megan’s law and the misconception of sex offender recidivism.” 2008. <
  75. Sandler, Jeffrey C., Freeman, Naomi J., and Socia, Kelly M. “DOES A WATCHED POT BOIL? A Time-Series Analysis of
    New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law.” Psychology Public Policy and Law · November 2008. Web.
  76. John Q. LaFond, "Preventing Sexual Violence." APA. Book.  2005
  77. Hollida Wakefield, “The Vilification of Sex Offenders: Do Laws Targeting Sex Offenders Increase Recidivism and Sexual
    Violence?” Journal of Sex Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law, 2006, p. 141-149
  78. Levenson, J. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2009). “Collateral damage: Family members of registered sex offenders.” American Journal of
    Criminal Justice
  79. See, for example, Tana Weingartner, "Twenty arrested during sex offender compliance sweep," WVXU, May 28, 203, http://www., Retrieved Aug. 5, 2018; and "Deputies check
    addresses on hundreds of Hamilton Co. sex offenders," WLWT, May 28, 2013,
    addresses-on-hundreds-of-hamilton-co-sex-offenders-1/3531896, Retrieved Aug. 5, 2018. In both articles, the spotlight was on
    20 arrests, in particular, one arrest involving a gun collection by a parolee. Pictures of the gun collection were prominently
    displayed. The officers referred to the operation as "spring cleaning." In reality, none were arrested for a new sex crime.
    Aug. 1, 2018.,  
    Retrieved Aug. 5, 2018
  81. Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Ph.D., Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D., Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., Debajyoti Sinha, Ph.D., Kevin S.
    Armstrong. "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policies for Reducing Sexual Violence
    against Women." Sept. 2010., Retrieved Aug. 5, 2018.
  82. Prentky, R. A., Knight, R. A., & Lee, A. F. S. (1997, June). Child sexual molestation: Research issues. Research Report, National
    Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C. Web. <>
  83. eAdvocate. “Special Report: Misquoting of Prentky's 1997 Long Term Recidivism Study: Affecting a MAJOR US Supreme Court
    Decision.” Truths, Authority and Factoids. June 2005. Web. <
    report-misquoting-of-prentkys.html>; See also Prentky, R. A., Lee, A. F. S., Knight, R. A., & Cerce, D. (1997 Dec). Recidivism
    rates among child molesters and rapists: A methodological analysis. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 656-657
  84. Richard Wollert, Ph.D. “An Analysis of the Argument That Clinicians Under-predict Sexual Violence in Civil Commitment Cases.”
    Behav Sci  Law. 2001;19(1):171-84. Found online at <>
  85. Supra, Prentky 1997 “Research Issues.” p.11
  86. Ibid., p.12
  87. Ibid., p.14, Exhibit 5
  88. Roger Przybylski. “Chapter 5: Adult Sex Offender Recidivism.” SMART Office. SOMAPI. 2018. Web. <
  89. Ron Langevin, Suzanne Curnoe, Paul Fedoroff, Renee, Mara Langevin, Cheryl Peever, Rick Pettica, and Shameen Sandhu.
    “Lifetime Sex Offender Recidivism: A 25-Year Follow-Up Study.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol. 46,
    No. 5. DOI: 10.3138/cjccj.46.5.531 (2004)
  90. Dornin, Chris. “Facts and Fiction about Sex Offenders.” 22 May 2010.   Web. <http://www.corrections.
  91. Hanson, Karl. “Long-Term Follow-Up Studies Are Difficult: Comment on Langevin et al. (2004).” Canadian Journal of
    Criminology and Criminal Justice, Jan 2006. DOI: 10.3138/cjccj.48.1.103 <https://www.researchgate.
  92. Ibid.
  93. Supra., Dornin 2010
  94. Webster, Cheryl Marie, Gartner, Rosemary, and Doob, Anthony. "Results by Design: The Artefactual Construction of High
    Recidivism Rates for Sex Offenders.”  CAN J CRIMINOL CRIM JUSTICE. 48. 79-93. 10.1353/ccj    2006.0013 Web.  <https:
  95. Lave and Zimrng, "Padilla", p.723
  96. Ibid., p.724-725
  97. Ibid., p.727
  98. Ibid., p.737-738
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