Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Detailed Analysis of Sex Offender Recidivism in New York State

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 was enacted.

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. (2002 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 parole violations.

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 following excerpts:

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)

from Registration

New Arrest

Any New
Sex Offense

~1 Year



~2 Years



~5 Years



~8 Years



Source: DCJS: NYS Sex Offender Registry and NYS
Computerized Criminal History Data Base

The 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. (Sex Offender 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 low.

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.

*Within 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)

1 comment:

Romaine said...

Good words.