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BJS Report Finds Sex Offenders Among Former Prisoners Least Likely to Re-Offend

by Scott Grammer

In May 2019 the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) issued a report, titled “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14),” that examined 67,966 former prisoners over a nine-year period after their release in 30 different states in 2005. The report explained that while sex offenders are more likely to be re-arrested for sex crimes than other ex-prisoners, they were less likely to be re-arrested overall.

“The median sentence length among prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 after serving time for rape or sexual assault (60 months) was longer than the median sentence length among all prisoners (36 months) or prisoners released after serving time for assault (36 months),” the report stated. “Twenty-seven percent of prisoners released after serving time for rape or sexual assault were serving a maximum sentence length of 10 years or more, compared to 10% of prisoners released after serving time for assault.”

The report also noted that “[a]n estimated 83% of the 401,288 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within 9 years of release.... The percentage of released prisoners arrested within 9 years for any type of crime after serving time for rape or sexual assault was 67%. That was higher than for prisoners released after serving time for homicide (60%) and lower than for prisoners released after serving time for robbery (84%) or assault (83%). Sex offenders (67%) were also less likely to be arrested following release than prisoners released after serving time for property (88%), drug (84%), or public-order (82%) offenses. Among released prisoners who were arrested during the 9-year follow-up period, 96% of sex offenders and 99% of all offenders were arrested for an offense other than a probation or parole violation....”

The BJS further found that “[s]ex offenders had a lower cumulative arrest percentage than assault offenders. During year-1, 29% of sex offenders were arrested, compared to 43% of assault offenders. By the end of year-9, 67% of sex offenders had been arrested, compared to 83% of assault offenders. As with released prisoners as a whole, the longer sex offenders went without being arrested after release, the less likely they were to be arrested during the 9-year follow-up period.

“Younger sex offenders (those age 24 or younger at the time of release) were more likely to be arrested for rape or sexual assault following release than older sex offenders (age 40 or older at the time of release).” Predictably, the study found that “[f]ewer than 1% (324) of the 42,890 female prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were serving time for rape or sexual assault.”

The 2019 report’s findings were consistent with those from a 2003 BJS report that examined sex offenders released in 1994, which found that violent sex offenders released from prison were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested on any charge, and that approximately one in 20 released sex offenders was rearrested for a new sex crime. [See: PLN, July 2004, p.20].

However, a BJS press report announcing the release of the 2019 report was titled “Released sex offenders were three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for a sex offense.” According to the press release, “Released sex offenders represented 5% of prisoners released in 2005 and 16% of post-release arrests for rape or sexual assault during the 9-year follow-up period.” While that was correct, it is also correct that drug offenders are more likely to be re-arrested for drug offenses, properly offenders are more likely to be re-arrested for property crimes, etc. Overall, sex offenders had one of the lowest re-offense rates.

Interestingly, the BJS report noted that only half of the sex offenders who were re-arrested were convicted – indicating that re-arrest data is a less reliable indicator of recidivism than conviction data. 

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Sources: thecrimereport.org, bjs.gov