Recidivism of Sex Offenders: Crime Statistics—Reader Request
Crime in America.Net staff
Gentlereaders: We were asked by a reader for data on the recidivism of sex offenders. To comply with the reader’s request, we offer the data below from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the US Department of Justice.
Please note that BJS data is often considered definitive (the best available) regardless of age. This is a 2003 report based on 1994 data. The Bureau of Justice Statistics uses large samples, good research strategies (methodologies) and excellent peer review to produce data that stands the test of time.
There is research on sex offender recidivism that is more recent, but none with the large data sets employed here.
That said, the research has its drawbacks. We have stated throughout this site that the majority of crime and 50 percent of violent crimes are not reported to police and there are considerable reductions in reported crimes prosecuted (being charged with a criminal offense) and that over 90 percent of prosecutions are plea-bargained (serious charges are often dropped to induce the defendant to plead guilty to lesser charges).
See http://crimeinamerica.net/2009/12/16/crime-and-justice-hampered-by-the-numbers/ for an example post.
Thus the data presented below is based on reported and prosecuted crimes where the most serious charge was pursued.
Critics have long felt that rape and other sex crimes are under-counted and if true, then the data below is merely a sample of sex offending; especially as it pertains to child sex offending.
Crime in America.Net staff.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. If all crimes are included, 43 percent of sex offenders were rearrested for various offenses.
Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense—43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of non-sex offenders. But sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime after their discharge from prison—5.3 percent of sex offenders versus 1.3 percent of non-sex offenders.
Sex offenders with the highest rate of rearrest for another sex offense were those who had a history of prior arrests for various crimes. While 3.3 percent of sex offenders with one prior arrest were arrested for another sex crime after their release, that percentage more than doubled (7.4 percent) for those with 16 or more prior arrests for different types of crimes. Of the released sex offenders who allegedly committed another sex crime, 40 percent perpetrated the new offense within a year or less from their prison discharge.
Of the almost 9,700 sex offenders released in 1994, nearly 4,300 were identified as child molesters. An estimated 3.3 percent of the 4,300 released child molesters were rearrested for another sex crime against a child within 3 years. Most of the children they were alleged to have molested after leaving prison were age 13 or younger.
Other BJS surveys have shown that 70 percent of all men in prison for a sex crime were men whose victim was a child. In almost half of the child-victim cases, the child was the prisoner’s own son or daughter or other relative.
The average sentence imposed on the 9,700 sex offenders was 8 years and, on average, 3 1/2 years of those 8 years were actually served prior to release. The average sentence imposed on the 4,300 child molesters was approximately 7 years and, on average, child molesters were released after serving 3 of the 7 years.
Of the released sex offenders, 3.5 percent were reconvicted for a sex crime within the 3-year follow-up period, 24 percent were reconvicted for any new offense and 38.6 percent were returned to prison, either because they received another prison sentence or because of a parole violation.
Of the 9,700 sex offenders, 67 percent were white males and 32 percent were black males. The percentage rearrested for another sex crime after their release was 5.3 percent of white males and 5.6 percent of black males.
Half of the 9,700 sex offenders were over the age of 35 when released. Recidivism studies typically find that the older the prisoner when released, the lower the rate of recidivism. However, although this study did find the lowest rearrest for a sex crime (3.3 percent) did belong to the oldest sex offenders — 45 years old and older — other age group comparisons were inconsistent. The percentage rearrested for another sex crime after their release was 6.1 percent of those ages 18-24, 5.5 percent of those ages 25-29, 5.8 percent of those ages 30-34, 6.1 percent of those ages 35-39, 5.6 percent of those ages 40-44 and 3.3 percent of those ages 45 or older.
For 85 percent of those sex offenders who were arrested for another sex crime, the arrest occurred in the same state that released them. For the remaining 15 percent, the arrest was in a different state.
The data are from a study that documented levels of recidivism among all 272,111 men and women released from state prisons in 15 states in 1994. The 272,111 included 9,691 male sex offenders. The 9,691 are two-thirds of all the male sex offenders released from state prisons in the United States in 1994. The study represents the largest followup ever conducted of convicted sex offenders following discharge from prison and provides the most comprehensive assessment of their behavior after release. The report, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994” (NCJ-198281), was written by BJS statisticians Patrick A. Langan, Erica L. Schmitt and Matthew R. Durose. Single copies may be obtained by calling the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-851-3420. Following publication this document can be accessed at:
For additional information about Bureau of Justice Statistics reports and programs, please visit the BJS Web site at: