Thursday, March 13, 2014

Do we really need new sex offender laws every time a child is killed?

First, we need to get out of the way the accusations, based on the title of this post, that I don't care about the victims. I care about the victims much, much more than those who persist in supporting a system that all but ignores the victims and apparently doesn't care about any victims except those victimized by registered sex offenders.

Florida has just passed a plethora of laws, and is looking to pass more, under the guise of protecting children from those registered sex offenders

According to the FBI Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Statistical Briefing Book, 2008, family members and acquaintances are responsible for, depending on the age of the child, 98 to 95% of sexual crime against children. The remaining small percentages are committed by strangers, and those already on the registry are a small percentage of those small percentages, leaving the focus on registrants, the public registry, and all of its appendages a useless but very expensive exercise in futility, virtually worthless in addressing the serious issue of child sexual abuse.

As far as these new bills in Florida are concerned, careful analysis seems to reveal one impetus: an opportunity to make political hay driven by the tragic death of a child, Cherish, by a repeat sex offender. Even though Florida has some of the most self-defeating and draconian laws on the books, the civil commitment program that has been in place has actually done a good job. Much has been made of the fact that "...Florida has a serious problem with repeat offenders. Hundreds of violent sexual offenders have committed new sexual crimes after being released from prison...." That sounds so alarming, and of course any violent crime is alarming and should be answered with a prison sentence commiserate with the crime, but using all of Florida's numbers relevant to this reveals a totally different perspective.

Those hundreds of violent offenders--a few short of 600--represent the failures of the program over a 14 year period of time. During those 14 years, the program screened and released 31,000 individuals. That means that, under the program in place, 30,400 released sex offenders did not commit a second offense over the 14 years. It appears the program had a 98% success rate with violent offenders over the time period. The number of total re-offenses, including the almost 600 violent ones, for the 14 years is 1,400. For those who like recidivism--sexual re-offense--rates, that is less than 5%. Some states come in lower, some a bit higher. Florida is right in the middle, right at the figure the DOJ arrived at after a multi-state, mega-study released in 2003.

These new laws are not needed. I predict that the rates will not change. Somewhere around 5% of released offenders either will not choose or will not be able to alter their behavior and will be, deservedly, returned to prison. And children in Florida will continue to be sexually abused at exactly the same rate as they have been and by the same people, and so few of them will be registered sex offenders that everyone on the registry could drop dead today and the amount of sexual crime against children will be the same tomorrow.


  1. God bless you for bringing out the numbers! When I read about the new laws and the 600 number they were touting, my first thought was it sounds so large when standing alone but how many RSOs are there in Florida that didn't re-offend. I don't want to see even one person (not just child dammit) raped but there will always be evil and the best we can do is try to prevent as many as possible. These laws don't prevent anything but instead are creating an explosive situation that not only causes more danger but also further harms registrants, their wives, and their children. "To save one child" (or 600), they will harm hundreds of thousands of other children and adults. That makes no freaking sense!

  2. Thank you; you might want to read something I wrote titled, "If It Saves One Child." If you look on the right side of the blog under "Previous Publications," you will see it.

  3. Most of our legislators have no incentive to prevent crime. People have become products in our society and how much money the investors can make. Private prisons are a huge money maker and the legislators are in bed with them.

  4. One question that comes to mind from your post is if approximately 95% of those sex offenders on the registry do not re-offend in the time period and geographic location cited, what went right for those 95%? What was successful? Is there a particular type of sex offender that is not treatable by current methods that are also the 5% re-offenders mentioned? What is not working in those cases?

  5. Charley, those are excellent questions. I cannot answer them. The closest I have ever come is by saying that there will always be those who either cannot or will not alter their behavior, but that isn't really answering the question; it is just restating the problem.

  6. Shelomith, My response is that someone knows, wouldn't you agree? People in the treatment profession, justice academia, and even in the legislative branches creating these registries? If the reporter in Florida did not do the math presented in their own article (or did they?) then is it not the people (citizens) that are causing the registry by their not appearing to care that the math does not add up. On many levels too, like cost to taxpayers verses the return on their taxpayer investment, as well as the touted public safety claim?

  7. May I ask... how many of those who re-offend do so because of the draconian registry requirements versus those who re-offend because of an actual sex crime?

    Or am I misunderstanding... it seems that many re-offenders do so not because of committing sex crimes but because of failing to meet registry requirements (requirements that seemed designed to force ex-offenders back to prison.)

    Thank you for the well-written article.


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