WASHINGTON – Sex offenders are less likely to be rearrested after their release from prison than other criminals, a government study released Sunday finds.
The Justice Department study of 9,691 men convicted of rape, sexual assault and child molestation who were released in 1994 found 43 percent were arrested for any type of crime within three years, compared with 68 percent for all other former inmates.
Ryan King, researcher at The Sentencing Project, suggested the difference may be because the most serious rapists, sexual assaulters and child molesters do not get released in the first place and are unable to commit more crimes. Those studied served an average of 3 1/2 years, indicating they had committed less severe crimes.
“The corrections system is clearly being very cautious about who is being released from prison for sex offenses,” said King, whose organization promotes alternatives to prison. “It’s a very significant concern with the public.”
Erica Schmitt, a statistician who co-wrote the report, said research repeatedly has shown that released sex offenders tend to get arrested less often than those convicted of theft, robbery, stealing vehicles or illegal weapons trafficking. But a small core of sex offenders often commits similar crimes over and over, she said.
The study found 5.3 percent of sex offenders were arrested for another sex crime after their release. Only 1.3 percent of all other criminals were arrested for a sex crime after serving a prison sentence.
The study was an outgrowth of a landmark project by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Released last year, it examined how often 272,111 prisoners set free in 1994 by 15 states ended up behind bars again within three years. The study is the largest and most comprehensive look ever at prison recidivism.
Most of the sex offenders studied had been convicted of only one sex offense but often had long criminal rap sheets: 78 percent had been arrested at least once previously for another type of crime.
The study found that those with long criminal records also were more likely to commit a sex crime after they got out of prison. The report said 8 percent were rearrested if they previously had committed between 11 and 15 offenses.
“Your typical rapist is an all-around criminal,” said Jamie Zuieback, spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “One of the biggest things we can do to prevent crime and prevent the crime of rape is to vigorously prosecute a whole range of criminals.”
Still, the numbers appeared to dispute the popular notion that sex offenders are incorrigible. Even among child molesters, about 18 percent had been arrested for similar offenses before, and only 3.3 percent of those released in 1994 were arrested again for a crime against a child.
A few, however, fit the mold of a serial pedophiles. The study documents an unidentified man who was first arrested in 1966 and continued to molest children in the 1970s and 1980s until he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, gaining release again in 1994.
These repeat sex offenders have led all 50 states to adopt laws allowing the public access to certain high-risk or serious offenders, including where they live. These “Megan’s Laws” are named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl who was raped and killed in 1994 by a child molester who moved in across the street from her house.
Most children molested by those in the Justice Department study were 13 or younger and in half the cases were the offender’s son, daughter or other relative.
The study examined prison releases in 1994 from Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, California, Michigan, Ohio, Delaware, Minnesota, Oregon, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, New York and Virginia.