SEX OFFENDERS: RECIDIVISM

In general, it may be said that there are very few good studies of recidivism and that no study has examined the recidivism of a large sample of first offenders throughout their criminal careers. Most studies of offenders of any type have focused on what can be called “failure” populations. An extended analysis of the criminal records of a population that is currently institutionalized is the common technique. Thus, excluding the first offenders, all other persons are “failures” in terms of remaining outside institutions. The primary defect of these studies, and of ours also, is that there is not present (and cannot be) in the institutionalized population those first offenders who do not get convicted the second time, and those second offenders who do not get convicted the third time, and so on. What these studies do show is the profile of previous offenses committed by men currently in prison. The degree to which their criminal careers are similar to the careers of men who did not return the next time, whatever time that might have been, is at present moot.

Recidivism rates vary considerably for different types of offenders; this is partially a function of the offense and partially a function of the length of sentence. Certain types of offenders, primarily those with a traditional career of property offenses, serve relatively short sentences and have high rates of recidivism both when released on parole and on unconditional release. Part of this recidivism rate is due to years of exposure in the free community, but also part is due to an involvement in social groups with standards and values at variance with majority sentiments. The opposite picture, in terms of both exposure and criminal subculture involvement, is observed in the case of both homicide and sex offenders.7 Except for exhibitionists, peepers, and those convicted of statutory rape, most other sex offenders receive fairly long sentences, cutting down years of exposure. This is also practically inevitable in homicide cases. All the other offender groups show relatively low recidivism rates when parole-violation rates are computed, for in addition to the years spent in institutions away from objects of their offenses these sex offenders (as well as those noted above) are not supported by social groups or norms which perpetuate offense behavior.

Taking the total convictions, sexual and nonsexual in nature, it appears that half of the sex offenders have more convictions than the prison group and half have fewer. There were 3.5 convictions per capita for the prison group; at one extreme were the aggressors vs. children with 5.5 and at the other the incest offenders vs. adults with 2.4 convictions. We may equate number of convictions with recidivism despite the fact that in some cases what was one unit of behavior resulted in convictions on several charges.

In general, the aggressors are the most recidivistic group. In per capita convictions they rank first, fifth, and sixth (5.5 to 3.9 convictions). Of the four groups with the smallest proportions of first offenders, three are the aggressors with only 17, 11, and 8 per cent of the members having one conviction on their records. In the rank-order of those with seven or more convictions they rank first (28 per cent of the aggressors vs. children had seven or more, convictions), fourth, and fifth.

The second most recidivistic are those offenders who do not make physical contact: the peepers and the exhibitionists. In per capita convictions they are second and third (4.3 for the exhibitionists and 4.2 for the peepers). They again rank second and third in the proportion who had seven or more convictions, this being true for one fifth of the peepers and 16 per cent of the exhibitionists. The recidivism of these two groups is a product not only of their compulsivity but also of the tendency for the courts either to omit imprisonment or mete out short sentences for these nuisance offenses.

As a group the incest offenders are the least recidivistic, averaging 2.4 to 3.0 convictions per capita. Moreover, slightly more than two fifths of the incest offenders vs. minors and adults were first offenders, ranking first and second. In a rank-order of those with seven or more convictions the incest offenders occupy the lowest three positions, with only 2 to 4 per cent showing such extreme recidivism.

The heterosexual offenders also have few repeaters: compared to those in other groups many were first offenders (they rank fourth, fifth, and sixth) and the per capita numbers of convictions are also low (2.8 to 3.0). Except for the incest offenders, they had the fewest members with seven or more convictions.

Lastly, there is a definite correlation between recidivism and age of the sexual object. In all four of our tripartite groups the men whose offenses were against children have more per capita convictions than those (within the same tripartite group) whose objects were older. Similarly in a rank-order of first offenders those who offended against adults or minors include larger proportions of first offenders than those who offended against children or who used force against females of any age.

Thus far we have been speaking of recidivism in terms of crimes of all sorts, yet a study of sex-offense recidivism yields much the same picture. The exhibitionists and peepers again are the most recidivistic (3.1 and 2.5 sex offenses per capita, ranking first and second) and the aggressors come next, ranking fourth, fifth, and seventh with from 2.0 to 2.2 offenses. The incest offenders and heterosexual offenders once more are the least recidivistic of the tripartite groups, the incest offenders vs. adults again having the lowest rate: 1.2 sex offenses per capita.

If one looks at recidivism solely as repetition of the specific offense, rather than any sex offense, the picture becomes somewhat confused. The exhibitionists and peepers still monopolize the top ranks (2.1 and 1.6 specific sex offenses per capita), and the incest and heterosexual offenders vs. adults the bottom ranks (1.0 and 1.1), but all other offenders and aggressors are mixed in helter-skelter between these extremes. However, it is worth noting that ranking high in this specific sex-offense recidivism (third and fourth ranks) are the homosexual offenders vs. adults and minors: our two most homosexually oriented groups. Strong homosexual motivation and recidivism are, in our culture, necessarily linked. An incest offender can turn to unrelated females, an aggressor can learn to win cooperation, the pedophile can try to satisfy himself with older girls, but the homosexual offender is, in most states, trapped in a situation where his activity is apt to be punished regardless of the age, relationship, or cooperativeness of his male partner.

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