Recidivism rate of male sex offenders

Literature Review

            The literature review looks into previous studies on the recidivism rate of male sex offenders in terms of three emerging themes. First is the rate of recidivism of male sex offenders upon release from incarceration. This provides a background on the rate of recidivism or re-arrest and/or re-conviction after release from prison. Second is the relationship between recidivism rates of male sex offenders and length of incarceration. This provides a synthesis of existing studies supporting or negating, in whole or in part, the correlation between these two variables. Third is the type of offenses committed by male sex offenders after release from prison. The review of literature would explain and qualify recidivism in male sex offenders.

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Recidivism Rates of Male Sex Offenders upon Release from Incarceration

            Consideration of studies conducted in different periods shows a common result that recidivism is generally low in sex offenders. This means that when considering the general population of sex offenders released from prison, the number of recidivating sex offenders is relatively low when compared to the general population. However, the recidivism rates considered the commission of subsequent sex offenses only and do not include other offenses that sex offenders may commit upon release.

Hanson and Bussiere (1998) conducted a study to predict relapse or recidivism of sex offenders. The study used a sample population of 23,393 sex offenders released from prison and made 61 follow-up studies to track the re-arrests and re-convictions of these sex offenders. The results showed that recidivism occurs in sex offenders. However, the rate of recidivism is low at 13.4 percent. This means that most of the sex offenders released from prison are not re-arrested or re-convicted. Recidivism is significantly concentrated in groups characterized by factors such as deviant sexual preferences and history of previous sexual offense. This means that while the general rate of recidivism is low, there are certain high-risk groups. This further implies the need for prison-based interventions for different groups of sex offenders.

Turner and Rubin (2002) studied recidivism on the part of sex offenders based on the common notion that sex offenders will always be sex offenders. By considering sex offender statistics for the United States in general and the state of Washington in particular, the study showed that the at least 65 percent of the sex offenders have not committed a succeeding sex offense after release from prison. In addition, recidivating occurs within one to five years after release from prison. After this period, the percentage of re-offenders decline. The rate of recidivism represents a bigger percentage of recidivating when compared to the previous study, albeit the rate was set as a floor value.

            Andrew, Harris and Hanson (2004) also studied recidivism of sex offenders by considering sex offender samples from Canadian correctional facilities in Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario, American prisons in California and Washington State, and British prison service in England and Wales. The sample population from these facilities ranged from 191 to 1,138. Ten follow-up studies occurred to study recidivism. The results showed that most of the sex offenders released from prison do not commit subsequent sex offenses. First time sex offenders are less likely not to repeat the commission of sex offenses relative to those with other previous convictions. The sex offenders released from prison above 50 years of age are also less likely to recidivate relative to the younger sex offenders freed from incarceration.

            Although varying in statistics, there is common agreement in the studies that sexual offense recidivism for sex offenders is low. Of the recidivating sex offenders, these are concentrated in certain groups characterized according to the type of sex offense, age upon release, and first time or repeat offender.

Recidivism Rates of Male Sex Offenders and Length of Incarceration

            There is no absoluteness in the studies over the relationship between recidivism of sex offenders and length of incarceration. The study indicating correlation between these two variables cited the decline in recidivism in the long-term that implies the co-occurrence of age as an important variable while the other studies report a weak link or selective link for different groups of sex offenders.

            Turner and Rubin (2002) reported the low rate of recidivism among sex offenders released from prison. In addition, recidivism occurs during the first to fifth year from release and declines radically beyond the fifth year. The sample population considered by the study is long-term incarcerated sexual offenders committing felonies or serious sex offenses. This means that the sex offenders have spent considerable time in prison before release. These were the bases of the correlation establishing the inverse relationship between length of incarceration and rate of recidivism for sexual offenders. The low recidivism rates and rapid decline in recidivism beyond the fifth year could support the correlative link between recidivism and length of incarceration. However, it appears that age upon release is a co-occurring variable explaining the low rate of recidivism and decline in recidivism beyond the fifth year after release. This means that length of incarceration affect recidivism in older sex offenders released from prison.

            Fazel et al. (2006) provide support to age as a factor determining the impact of length of incarceration on the rate of recidivism. A sample of 1,303 sex offenders released after serving an average of 8.9 years in prison were categorized under four age groups, which are less than 25 years old, 25 to 39 years old, 40 to 54 years old, and 55 years or older. Comparative results showed that repeat offending is lower and decreases in the older age groups. This supports the results of the previous study that the length of incarceration has significant impact on recidivism for sex offenders belonging to the older age groups upon release.

            Vandiver (2006) also explored the variable of age in linking length of incarceration with recidivism by considering juvenile sex offenders and repeat offenses in adulthood. Follow-up studies from 3 to 6 years after release and upon reaching adult age showed that only 4.33 percent were re-arrested or re-convicted for subsequent sexual offenses. However, greater than half of the released juvenile sex offenders turned adult were arrested or convicted at least once for non-sexual offenses. This means that if recidivism were expanded to all crimes, then juvenile sex offenders would have a high recidivism rate in adulthood that implicates age as a factor determining recidivism. In this case, the study also coincides with the previous results.

            Nunes et al. (2007) studied the link between incarceration and recidivism, which was qualified as limited to sexual or violence offenses, by considering the case of 627 adult and male sex offenders. The study modified the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sexual Offense Recidivism test and found that the length of incarceration has no association with recidivism or the commission of subsequent sexual offenses and other felonies. While the use of the test showed no significant relationship, the study focused on sex offenses and violent crimes as the point of reference for recidivism. The previous study suggests that recidivism could also encompass non-sexual offenses that are not felonies.

            Manchak, Skeem and Douglas (2008) studied the use of a predictive measure of recidivism in establishing the link between length of incarceration and recidivism of violent offenses including sex crimes. The results showed that the measure was able to link length of service with general recidivism but not necessarily repeat sexual and violent offenses. However, the study also pointed to other factors that affect recidivism apart from the length of incarceration such as parole.

            The studies show that there is no absolute link between length of incarceration and recidivism because the link depends on the co-occurrence of other variables or factors. One intervening variable is the age of the sex offender upon release. Length of service has an impact on recidivism by decreasing the rate of repeat sexual offenses of sex offenders released when they already belong to the older age groups. Another intervening factor is the scope of recidivism. If recidivism covers only repeat sexual offenses whether including or excluding other violent crimes, there appears to be a weak relationship between length of service and recidivism. However, if recidivism were to cover non-sexual and non-violent offenses, then there could be a strong relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism but still leaning towards sex offenders released in their old age.

Recidivism of Male Sex Offenders and Type of Offenses Committed After Release

            For the recidivating sex offenders, the type of offenses committed after release varies. There are three categories of crimes covered by the broad perspective of recidivism, which are 1) sexual offenses, 2) violent non-sexual offenses, and 3) general recidivism. A study also classified types of sexual offenses committed by recidivating sex offenders upon release from incarceration.

            Hanson and Bussiere (1998), Turner and Rubin (2002), and Manchak, Skeem and Douglas (2008) indicated that recidivism could be for the same sexual offense that caused the incarceration of the released sexual offender. Other crimes committed by released sex offenders could also be non-sexual felonies such as other personal crimes or general recidivism that encompasses all other crimes no covered by sexual offenses and non-sexual felonies such as petty property crimes. Vandiver (2006) considered repeat offenses committed by sexual offenders as either sexual or non-sexual offenses. Fazel et al. and Nunes et al. (2007) classified the types of crime for which released sex offenders are re-arrested or re-convicted as either sexual or non-sexual violent offenses.

            The differences in the categorization or typology of the recidivism offenses committed by sex offenders upon release has direct link to the definition of recidivism in the various studies. There are studies considering sexual offenses as the type of crime recidivated. Other studies consider both sexual and non-sexual violent offenses as the types of crimes committed by sex offenders upon release.  The remaining studies consider even general or all other crimes as covered by recidivism. As such, in conducting the present study, the definition of recidivism requires clarification for the appropriate varying consideration of the previous studies as framework for the study.

            Andrew, Harris and Hanson (2004) focused on the particular sexual offenses recidivated by sexual offenders upon release and classified these as 1) rape, 2) incest, 3) child molestation of girls as victims, and 4) child molestation with boys as victims. The results showed that there is higher rate of repeat commission of rape and child molestation with boys as victims. This implies the higher risk for sex offenders victimizing males to recidivate. Other factors influencing the risk of recidivism are prior sexual offense and younger age as contributing to higher risk.

            Overall, the studies provided a framework for the current study by pointing to the state of current research on the length of incarceration and recidivism of sex offenders. There is need to determine whether the lack of absolute link between the two variables also applies to other prison jurisdiction such as in Indiana. The studies also pointed to loopholes requiring further consideration in research such as clarification of recidivism and types of crimes recidivated.


Andrew, J. R., Harris, R., & Hanson, K. (2004). Sex offender recidivism: A simple question. Ontario: Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.

Fazel, S., Sjöstedt, G., Långström, N., & Grann, M. (2006). Risk factors for criminal recidivism in older sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 18(2), 159-167.

Hanson, R. K., & Bussiere, M. T. (1998). Predicting relapse: A meta-analysis of sexual offender recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(2), 348–362.

Manchak, S. M., Skeem, J. L., & Douglas, K. L. (2008). Utility of the Revised Level of Service Inventory (LSI-R) in predicting recidivism after long-term incarceration. Law and Human Behavior, 2(6), 477-488.

Nunes, K. L., Firestone, P., Wexler, A. F., Jensen, T. L., & Bradford, J. M. (2007). Incarceration and recidivism among sexual offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 31(3), 305-318.

Turner, E., & Rubin, S. (2002). Once a sex offender … always a sex offender: Myth or fact?. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 17(2), 32-44.

Vandiver, D. M. (2006). A prospective analysis of juvenile male sex offenders

characteristics and recidivism rates as adults. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(5),    673-688.


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