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Risks of reoffending: What does the research say?

Serving a sentence for a sexual offense like rape, assault or child pornography can destroy a person's life. Even after a sentence is completed, a person is still living under a microscope and can quickly wind up back in jail if he or she commits another offense.

Last year, the Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative released a comprehensive report on numerous sex crime recidivism studies. Looking at the research makes a few things clear: many offenders do not commit another sex crime, arrest rates for any type of offense are troubling for sex offenders and more research is needed to truly examine recidivism rates among people convicted of sexually related offenses.

One of the largest studies examined in the report addressed overall recidivism rates for all sex offenders. According to this study, about 5.3 percent of the 9,691 men involved in the study committed another sexual offense within three years of being released from prison. Researchers believe this number is quite low, as sex crimes are believed to be greatly underreported. However, the fact is that only a small percentage of sex offenders commit another sex crime after conviction.

Studies have also revealed that many sex offenders who are arrested again are arrested for non-sexual crimes. In many cases, they are rearrested for violent offenses or for violating the conditions of their release. This is sadly not surprising, as many people released from jail for these offenses will have to register as sex offenders, which makes it incredibly difficult to lead a normal life, keep a job and comply with every restriction put in place.

Finally, based on the report, it is clear that recidivism rates warrant more research to get a more accurate picture of the risks of re-offending. Too often, members of the public are driven by fear and misinformation, believing every person convicted of a sex crime poses a threat to the community. But if there are patterns in recidivism rates that can be fleshed out more precisely through research, it could certainly lead to improved treatment programs and the development of more tools to help people stay out of trouble and avoid re-offending.

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