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BJS Finds Low Recidivism among Released Sex Offenders

Contradicting popular perceptions, a November 2003 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that violent sex offenders released from prison are less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested on any charge, and that approximately 1 in 20 released sex offenders are rearrested for a new sex crime. This report extends the BJS' June 2002 report on recidivism of released prisoners previously reported by PLN in March 2003.

In 1994, fifteen states Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia released 302,309 prisoners, two-thirds of the nation's total prisoner releases for that year. Of these releasees, 10,546 were sex offenders. The BJS study tracked 9,691 released male sex offenders and compared their recidivism rates to the rates of the 272,111 prisoners tracked in the June 2002 report. The sex offenders were broken down into four overlapping categories: rapists (3,115 releasees), sexual assaulters (6,576), child molesters (4,295), and statutory rapists (443). Non-violent sex crimes were not included in the study, nor were the 87 female sex offenders released in 1994. Of the 9,691 released sex offenders, 6,503 (67.1%) were White, 3,053 (31.5%) were Black, and 136 (1.4%) were other races. Four-fifths of the releasees were non-Hispanic males. About half were over age 35 when released.

The average sex offender released in 1994 was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment and served 31 months before being released. Rapists had longer sentences and served more time than child molesters. In turn, child molesters had longer sentences and served more time than other sexual offenders.

Within three years of release from prison, 4,163 of the 9,691 (43%) releasees were rearrested for at least one new crime. Nearly one-quarter of the releasees were convicted for a new crime, and 11.2% were returned to prison with another sentence. Overall, 38.6% of releasees were returned to prison with or without a new sentence. Three-quarters of the re-arrests were for felonies. For non-sex offenders, 68% were rearrested within three years of release, and 47.8% were reconvicted of any crime. Over half of the rearrested sex offenders were rearrested within the year following release. Blacks were more likely than Whites to be rearrested for any crime, but Blacks and Whites were equally likely to be rearrested for a new sex crime. Non-Hispanics were more likely than Hispanics to be rearrested. Younger releasees had higher re-arrest rates than older releasees. Longer time in prison did not correlate to re-arrest rates.

Released sex offenders had a 5.3% chance (about 1 in 20) of being rearrested for a new sex offense. Forty percent of these new sex offenses were committed within the first year of release. Released sex offenders have a higher rate of committing new sex offenses than non-sex offender releasees have of committing a new sex offense (1.3% chance). The more prior sex offenses released sex offenders had the more likely they were to commit new sex offenses. Child molesters had a 3.3% chance upon release of committing a new child sex offense, compared to 2.2% for other sex offenders and less than 0.5% for non-sex offenders.

The report found, however, that non-sex offenders were significantly more likely to be rearrested for any offense than sex offenders. Also, in total numbers, more non-sex offenders (3,845) than sex offenders (517) were rearrested for a sex crime in the three years following release. Moreover, released sex offenders were much more likely to be rearrested for a non-sexual crime than for a sex offense. Child molesters had lower re-arrest rates than other types of sexual offenders overall.

The report describes its methodology thoroughly, but some portions of the report rely on the June 2002 report. The report is titled Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994 and is report number NCJ 198281. One copy is available free by writing NCJRS, Post Office Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000, or it can be downloaded in ASCII or PDF formats from the BJS website:

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