Sex offender risk plummets over time in community, new study reports
Violent criminals reform.
And now -- drum roll -- the authors of the most widely used actuarial tool for assessing sex offender recidivism are conceding that even sex offenders cross a "redemption threshold" over time, such that their risk of committing a new sexual crime may become "indistinguishable from the risk presented by non-sexual offenders."
Tracking a large group of 7,740 sexual offenders drawn from 21 different samples around the world, the researchers found that those who remain free in the community for five years or more after their release are at drastically reduced risk of committing a new sex offense.
The offenders identified as at the highest risk on the Static-99R saw their rates of reoffending fall the most, from 22 percent at the time of release to 8.6 percent after five years and only 4.2 percent after 10 years in the community. Based on their findings, the researchers say that risk factors such as number of prior offenses are time-dependent rather than truly static or never-changing.
Quoting two of my favorite scholars -- criminologist Shadd Maruna and law professor/forensic psychologist Charles Ewing -- the authors challenge the notion that sex offenders represent a special case of perpetual danger. They question the need for lifelong monitoring and supervision.
"Even if certain subgroups of sexual offenders can be identified as high risk, they need not be high risk forever. Risk-relevant propensities could change based on fortunate life circumstances, life choices, aging, or deliberate interventions."
The time-free effect was similar across all subgroups examined, including those defined by age at release, treatment involvement, pre-selection into a "high risk/high need" category on the Static-99R, or victim type (adults, children, related children).
The authors recommend revising estimates of risk for individuals who do not reoffend after being free in the community for a certain period of time.
"Once given the opportunity to reoffend, the individuals who reoffend should be sorted into higher risk groups, and those who do not reoffend should be sorted into lower risk groups. This sorting process can result in drastic changes from the initial risk estimates."