Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why Minnesota's New Sex Offender Sentencing Bills, HF 1572/SF 1895, Will Endanger Minnesota's Children

Sex Offender Facts

Before I begin, I would like to start with a brief review of three facts about sex offenders that the average person does not know:
  1. Most sex crimes are committed by people new to the criminal justice system
    1. 95% of new sex crimes are committed by first-time offenders, or those new to the criminal justice system. This comes from studying 21 years of arrest data in New York. The authors stated that an attempt to replicate the study would be extremely useful, but to my knowledge there has not been such an attempt, though the Minnesota Chapter of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers and the Center for Sex Offender Management cite the same statistic. If you know of a similar study, use the contact gadget on the right, and be sure to cite the study.
    2. This premise is supported by the low rates of recidivism among sex offenders (see following point): If convicted sex offenders do not typically commit sex crimes, then either A: Other offenders with different convictions or B: Those new to the criminal justice system (first-time offenders). The above study establishes that it is the second group, first-time offenders.
  2. Sex offender recidivism is low (really low)
    1. A wide variety of recidivism studies are available on the subject (for starters, see here: 45,398 offenders in 16 countries, 11.5%; here (MN: 7%), and here). 
    2. Studying recidivism is compounded by two major factors: Recidivism typically looks at those released from prison, not those on supervision (probation), and underreporting can skew findings in recidivism studies with no way to control for the different findings.
    3. A wider review of the literature shows that general recidivism (a sex offender that reoffends with any crime) is higher at around 30-40%, and sexual recidivism (a sex offender that reoffends with a sex crime) is lower at around 12%. In other words, when a sex offender reoffends, it is not usually with a sexual crime.
  3. Sex offender treatment works well
    1. For a very broad overview of the topic, see here or here. For a study aimed more at recidivism, see here
    2. Sex offender treatment is not geared to a one-size-fits-all approach, but is tailored to a specific offender's needs. Generally, juveniles and first-time offenders respond better to treatment than other offenders. 
For a more comprehensive look at the facts about sex offenders, see here (PDF from Center for Sex Offender Management, and Office of Justice Program of the United States Department of Justice). For a look at Minnesota ATSA's discussion on sex offender residency restrictions, which includes an overview of facts, see here.
With that having been said, let me introduce the new sentencing bills (here and here) and what its aims are.

The Bills: An Overview

For those of you who are unfamiliar with these topics, what they are essentially proposing can be summed up in three points:
  1. Eliminating the stays of adjudication (wipe criminal record pending successful completion of probation, record is invisible to public) and stays of imposition (felony drops to a misdemeanor upon successful completion of probation, record is visible the entire time but drops in severity).
  2. Establishing a mandatory minimum sentence for "child pornography" (child sexual abuse material) offenders: 6 months for first-time offender, 12 for someone with a prior same offense.
  3. Establishing lifetime supervision, either in the form of conditional release or probation.
The supposed goal of the bills is to improve public safety. I say supposed, because I believe these bills will do nothing of the sort and may in fact increase recidivism and ignore the bulk of the problem: First-time offenders. If the goal is public safety, the bill's contents should be policies that are effective, not policies that pander to public opinion.

Who Is Opposing These Bills?

I have confirmation that the Minnesota Chapter of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (MN-ATSA) is fighting certain provisions of this bill, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, as well as the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. By contrast, three sexual abuse survivors and the Minnesota Sheriff's Association has voiced their support. Frankly, I trust the aforementioned groups because they actually see the results of sex crimes on both sides of the coin: Victims and sex offenders. The facts are with those opposing these bills.

Why Oppose Them: The State of Minnesota's Own Statutes

In case you are unaware, last year, the State of Minnesota passed a statute regarding the policy it has towards criminals. That statute reads:

"The legislature declares that it is the policy of the state of Minnesota to encourage and contribute to the rehabilitation of criminal offenders and to assist them in the resumption of the responsibilities of citizenship. The opportunity to secure employment or to pursue, practice, or engage in a meaningful and profitable trade, occupation, vocation, profession or business is essential to the rehabilitation and the resumption of the responsibilities of citizenship."
If the Public Safety Committee sees its current omnibus bill, HF 896, passed, they will add that, "The opportunity to secure housing is also essential to rehabilitation and the resumption of the responsibilities of citizenship."

If that is Minnesota's policy towards criminals, then one must ask the question: How does establishing the lifetime supervision of a certain kind of criminal encourage them to resume the responsibilities of their citizenship? Likewise, how does removing the incentive of stays of adjudication and imposition make it easier for sexual offenders to reintegrate into society? The bills that are currently under consideration are a violation of Minnesota's own policy towards criminals.

Why Oppose Them: The Problem With Focusing On Sex Offenders

In case you missed my critique of Kare 11's investigations that started this bill, I argued that the bill targets a group of people responsible for the fewest number of sex crimes: Sex offenders. I overviewed some of the numbers specific to Minnesota and the reports that the Minnesota Department of Corrections has issued concerning sex offenders, and some of the problems with their reports. In short, focusing on reacting to sex crimes, which is what this bill does, is only ever going to affect about 10% of the problem or less. 

Why Oppose Them: The Problem With Taking Away An Offender's Incentive To Remain Law-Abiding

What if you made a mistake so bad, you knew it would haunt you for the rest of your life? What if you were not familiar with the laws about your mistake, the facts, or an ability to get mental health help? For a sex offender, that is not a hypothetical question: That is reality. Now, what if, having made that mistake and been caught, you are told that if you mind your P's and Q's and do not make another mistake, that mistake will only haunt a limited part of your life?

Exactly. You will jump at it, right? "I learned my lesson, I will do whatever it takes to get that chance the judge is giving me!" is roughly going to be what most offenders react with. There will always be a small percentage that try to manipulate the system and commit other crimes, just as there will always be a small percentage of "career criminals" for whom a sex offense is just another felony under their belt. But the reality is, most sex offenders are not in either of those groups.

Politicians in the state of Minnesota want to take away that hope for sex offenders in the hopes that it will deter sex crimes. Victims want stricter sentencing because they believe the same. What both parties are unaware of are the facts around this issue, and it is the facts, not an emotional testimony, that will protect Minnesota's children. They want to look tough on crime, but what they are really doing is making it harder for a sex offender to move on once they have committed their crime. That puts them more at risk for mental health issues, as well as further crimes. It does not lead to a safer community.

Why Oppose Them: The Problem With Lifelong Supervision

The main problem with lifelong supervision is that for most sex offenders, it is completely unnecessary: It would be a waste of taxpayer money. Read, if you will, the statement of an expert that has not only treated victims of sex crimes and sex offenders, but has extensively researched sex offender typology:
  1. Recidivism rates are not uniform across all sex offenders. Risk of re-offending varies based on well-known factors and can be reliably predicted by widely used risk assessment tools such as the Static-99 and Static-99R, which are used to classify offenders into various risk levels.
  2. Once convicted, most sexual offenders are never re-convicted of another sexual offence.
  3. First-time sexual offenders are significantly less likely to sexually re-offend than are those with previous sexual convictions.
  4. Contrary to the popular notion that sexual offenders remain at risk of re-offending through their lifespan, the longer offenders remain offence-free in the community, the less likely they are to re-offend sexually. Eventually, they are less likely to re-offend than a non-sexual offender is to commit an “out of the blue” sexual offence.
    1. Offenders who are classified as low-risk by the Static-99R pose no more risk of recidivism than do [whiteout] individuals who have never been arrested for a sex-related offense but have been arrested for some other crime.
    2. After 10-14 years in the community without committing a sex offense, medium-risk offenders pose no more risk of recidivism than individuals who have never been arrested for a sex-related offense but have been arrested for some other crime.
    3. After 17 years without a new arrest for a sex-related offense, high risk offenders pose no more risk of committing a new sex offense than do individuals who have never been arrested for a sex-related offense but have been arrested for some other crime.
  5. Based on my research, my colleagues and I recommend that rather than considering all sexual offenders as continuous, lifelong threats, society will be better served when legislation and policies consider the cost/benefit break point after which resources are spent tracking and supervising low-risk sexual offenders are better re-directed toward the management of high-risk sexual offenders, crime prevention, and victim services.

It may be slightly difficult to understand the last paragraph, but they recommend that instead of viewing all sex offenders as lifelong risks to public safety (as HF 1572/SF 1895 does), it is better to look at the point at which the costs outweigh the benefits of supervising and tracking sex offenders, and to focus efforts on high-risk offenders, prevention, and services to victims. 

Why Oppose Them: Mandatory Minimum Sentences

They call it child pornography. I call it sex abuse material, because that is what it is. Those that are charged with sex abuse material crimes are typically low-risk sex offenders, who would do well on probation with a stay of imposition. Probation would require them to complete sex offender treatment as well as refraining from consuming any kind of sexual imagery or pornography. In larger counties, compliance is monitored by a computer program. They would also need to refrain from contact with children. Mandatory minimum sentences would again hinder these offenders' abilities to re-enter the community, and leave a larger gap between the time they are arrested and sentenced, and the time they are able to get sex offender treatment. That serves no real public safety purpose, it serves to vindictively punish people for committing a certain crime. As the bills are aimed to improve public safety, that must be their focus.

Sex Crime Is Not Simple

The unfortunate truth is that sex crime is vastly complex, and a wide variety of research has been conducted in each complex area within sexual crime. While the public may understand the issue simply as, "If someone poses a risk to the public they should be locked up!" the reality is not nearly that simple. Most sex offenders do not present enough of a risk to public safety, and many other types of offenders (property crime, financial crime, theft, etc.) have a much higher risk to public safety than sex offenders present. Attempting to take a one-size-fits-all approach to this issue will compound these complex issues, not solve them.

A Criminal Issue Or A Mental Health Issue?

Recently, there has been much talk in the academic field of child sexual abuse prevention about treating sex abuse as a public health issue. This idea is new to the public and to policy makers, but not new to researchers. The Center for Sex Offender Management has stated much the same thing, and last year, Elizabeth Letourneau gave a speech at TEDMED indicating that sexual abuse is a preventable public health issue. 

While victimizing people sexually is absolutely abhorrent and a criminal act, the issues that lead someone to commit that act are largely mental health issues with a wide variety of motivations and contributing factors. Those motivations and factors are just as complex as the realities of sex crime, if not more so: The same thing that motivates incest in one person does not motivate a juvenile to sexually abuse a younger child. Even the same kind of offense is motivated differently.

If we paid attention to the realities of sex crimes, who perpetrates them, and focused on preventing sex crime, a larger dent would be made in keeping the public safe than current methods of reacting to sex offenders will do. That is why I have formed some solutions, based on my nerd-like knowledge of this subject.

Alternative Solutions

I have already taken the liberty of contacting many state politicians about this same issue. The recommendations I made for them are, instead of passing HF 1572:
  1. Use stays of imposition and probation on adults that score as low-risk on Minnesota’s risk assessment criteria, and stays of adjudication on juvenile offenders. Incentivize sex offenders to remain law-abiding. Do not eliminate these stays.
  2. Assign risk level based on risk assessment, not on which statute was violated. If possible, use both the MN-SOST-3.1 and the Static-99R. While the MN-SOST-3.1 is reliable, more research has been done proving the reliability of the Static-99R. has more information including research. 
  3. Remove the requirement to register for low-risk offenders, and reserve that for moderate and high-risk offenders. If any low-risk offender commits a second sex crime, they must register, and if any moderate to high risk offender commits a second sex crime, they receive an automatic prison sentence appropriate to the circumstances, after which their name would be made public (notification). The money saved from taking this approach should be spent on prevention and education.
  4. Should any offender with at least two sexual crimes on their record reoffend again regardless of the offense type, it is an automatic life sentence in prison. Three strikes and they are done. That alone should serve to both control recidivism, and deter recidivists.
  5. More is needed in the way of educating children and communities about sexual issues and where they can go to get help. I believe Erin’s Law is just one step: We cannot stop with passing just Erin’s Law. These recommendations is covered in depth here.
I have made other recommendations before on this blog, and indeed in the critique of Kare 11's investigation. These recommendations are specific to Minnesota, while many of the recommendations in my critique are generalized to the rest of the United States. I believe that sex crimes can be stopped before they happen. Do you believe these are preventable crimes? If so, let your legislators know. If not, then study up on this subject. The articles and studies link on the right is a great place to start.

It is for the children, after all.



The Senate Public Safety Committee, and the conference committee, has chosen to delete HF 1572 from the Public Safety Omnibus Bill. For now, I am considering this a victory.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

37 "Scarey" Repeat Sex Offenders Statistics, Debunked And Fact-Checked

Um, Say What?

So, I was looking for a replication of a study I constantly cite (again, to no avail), and came across this article. Now granted, it is two years old, but I figured that it could use a little bit of updating, and since I know a lot about this topic and I have not written anything for a month... One of the biggest criticisms I have for this article is that it cites no sources for its numerous "facts" so there is no way to identify which come from studies unless you are familiar with the research. Since I am familiar with some of the research, I will take a stab at this.


In their one-paragraph introduction, they give wrong information. Current laws do not, in fact, make it impossible for sex offenders to live or work near places where children congregate and the laws that do have been shown to be ineffective. They also state that a sex offender can easily become a repeat offender, despite citing no evidence to that effect (the average recidivism rate for sex offenders committing new sexual crimes is around 12%, which means that 88% of sex offenders never commit another sex crime). But then, the post was written by someone at "Health Research Funding", so it must be right, you might think. Well, their introduction paragraph has two wrong facts right off the bat.

Health Research Funding's List Of Alternative Facts

So, to their list. It would be tedious to give each statistic a heading, so I will have their alternative facts in the far-left numbers that progress, and the reaction to that fact in the little "1" under their "facts".

  1. The total number of registered sex offenders that are currently in the United States: 747,000.
    1. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children puts this number at 859,500 as of December 6, 2016.
  2. 33% of the registered sex offenders that are in the US right now are under the supervision of a corrections agency.
    1. Since they cite no source for this, there is no way to verify this statistic, nor is there any way to determine if the supervision they mention is probation or parole.
  3. The average age of a rapist is 31-years-old and 52.2% of them are white males.
    1. As a small percentage of sex offenders (less than 30%, since 66% of sex offenders are those with offenses against children) are rapists, this fact is misleading. 
  4. An estimated 24% of those serving time for rape and 19% of those serving time for sexual assault had been on probation or parole at the time of their repeat offense.
    1. See previous answer: They are talking about a minute fraction of sex offenders, certainly not the majority. Since there is no way to verify this list, 
  5. Only 2% of the Catholic clergy sexual abusers were ever jailed, despite over 10,000 victims and an estimated 4,300 total abusers.
    1. There is no way to verify if this is true, but given the coverups and overall statistics about underreporting, it would not surprise me if this were accurate.
  6. An adolescent sex offender who does not receive treatment will commit an estimated 380 sex crimes over their lifetime.
    1. This is hogwash that is based on a hogwash study that was debunked some time ago. Here, you can see a therapist address this. 
  7. 1 out of every 2 child molestations that occurs are perpetrated by an adolescent male.
    1. A study in the Juvenile Justice Bulletin done in 2009 puts this figure at 35.6%, not half. 
  8. Offenders with a previous sex offense conviction have a 37% re-offense rate.
    1. Overall sex offender recidivism for general crimes is 30-40%, while sexual recidivism is around 12%. 
  9. Rapists repeat their offenses at rates up to 35%.
    1. See above. Also, this study found that rapists repeat sexual crimes at a rate of 18.9%, not 35%, and rapists repeat general crimes at a rate around 46.2%. 
  10. Sex offenders who are attracted to boys are the most likely to re-offend in some sex crime which may include rape, molestation, or a violent act.
    1. Sex offenders who are attracted to children in general works out to be .05764% of the entire US population (compared to .262% of the population that are sex offenders, and .17292% of the population are sex offenders with an offense against a child). 17% of girls are abused, and 7% of boys are abused sexually, so the percentage 
  11. The percentage of second sex offenses that occur while the offender is living in a supervised community: 60%.
    1. Again, there is no source for this, and given that most sex offenders do not reoffend sexually (most being, on average, 88%, see number 8), this would be talking about 7.2% of sex offenders if true.
  12. It costs $22,000 per year in order to incarcerate a sex offender.
    1. According to this source, it costs on average, $31,307 to incarcerate an inmate, and according to The New York Times, that same figure is $31,286. Suffice it to say that this figure seems low, and without a study or jurisdiction, I call hogwash.
  13. For children between the ages of 12-15, about one third of all the sex offenses that occur are from a male perpetrator who is of the same age.
    1. At what point to we call this a sex offense? Is it the child or children who has a problem with this same-age sexual behavior, or the parents and the police? In some states, any sexual activity between two children of the same age is illegal no matter what.
  14. 43% of the sexual assaults that occur happen within a 6 hour window that begins at 6pm and ends at midnight.
    1. No source, and I am unfamiliar with statistics about sexual assault.
  15. The percentage of sex crimes that occur to children under the age of 6 by an adolescent under the age of 18: 40%.
    1. According to this study, page 7, 57.1% of such crimes are perpetrated by offenders 12 years old or younger, and 21% of such crimes are perpetrated by offenders 12-18 years old.
  16. The average amount of jail time that a sex offender will serve out of their average 8 year prison sentence: 3.5 years.
    1. In other words, it takes the justice system an average of 3.5 years from the time they are first arrested and go to jail, to convict a sex offender and send them to prison? This is either poorly worded or wrong. If true, it would mean that most justice systems are violating sex offenders' right to a speedy trial, and I doubt that kind of constitutional violation is occurring on such a wide scale.
  17. 30% of the children who are abused sexually will become sex offenders later on in their adult life.
    1. See next fact, and answer this: If a third of victims actually go on to abuse, why are only one-third of sexual abusers found to have been abused? Those numbers do not add up.
  18. Although two thirds of sex offenders during an interview state that they were abused as children, only 29% of them are found to be telling the truth during a lie detector test.
    1. This has been shown by research to be correct, only the number is 50% and drops to 30-40% depending on which study you consult. Relying on one study for a statistic like this is deceptive at best.
  19. 80% of the girls who are sexually molested had a perpetrator that was someone which they new.
    1. First, please learn how to spell, folks. New is not knew. Second, 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser, not 80%
  20. The percentage of boys who knew the perpetrator that molested them: 93%.
    1. See above response.
  21. Approximately 47% of people are victimized by their family or their extended family.
    1. The last I looked at this figure, it was 30%, not 47%. 
  22. Repeat sex offenders in one study used romantic relationships with women to gain access to the women’s children.
    1. One study does not make the norm, and given that most new sex offenses are not committed by registered sex offenders but by those new to the criminal justice system, this is questionable. 
  23. Only 2.7% of the total number of sex offenders are estimated to commit another sex crime after being released from jail.
    1. If only 2.7% of sex offenders reoffend after being released from jail, then they contradicted their own fact- number 8, which claims that sex offenders have a 37% recidivism rate.
  24. The percentage of sex offenders that will commit another crime, non-sexual in nature, after being released from jail: 70%.
    1. Most studies on recidivism show that a sex offender will usually recidivate with a non-sexual crime, so this is likely true. I do not see how it is a scary repeat sex offender statistic, however.
  25. The state of Delaware has the highest rate of sex offenders, with a rate of 517 per 100,000 in general population.
    1. The state of Delaware has 507 per 100,000 people, and the highest rate is actually found at 718 in Oregon. 
  26. It isn’t just men who are sex offenders. 2% of the sex offender registry in New York State are women.
    1. Women have always accounted for a small percentage of sexual crimes. What is not here is that they typically receive more lenient sentences also.
  27. Pennsylvania has the lowest rate of sexual offenders: 94 per 100,000.
    1. 157 per 100,000 people, and the lowest rate within the 50 states is actually 113, and that is in Maryland.
  28. Studies have found that contemporary cognitive-behavioral treatment does help to reduce rates of sexual re-offending by as much as 40%.
    1. This means that sex offender treatment is effective at reducing recidivism. How is that scary, I wonder? I have seen studies that claim much the same, so this is actually a fact.
  29. Over a 5 year period, recidivism rates can be as low as 14% in some jurisdictions.
    1. Which jurisdictions? Cite your source, and frankly, given the numbers I have seen in individual jurisdictions (for example, Wisconsin is 6% after 15 years and 1.5% after 3, and Minnesota is 7% after 8 years)
  30. First-time offenders are less likely to create a repeat sexual offense than those who have already committed a second or third repeat sexual offense.
    1. Again, I fail to see how this is a scary repeat sex offender statistic. However, this is true and verified by the statement of R. Karl Hanson.
  31. Only 10% of all sex crimes actually result in a criminal conviction.
    1. Sex crimes are well-known for having low conviction rates because of the myth that victims are lying, and the fact that victim testimony is usually the only evidence available. 
  32. The cost savings per year to place a sex offender into a comprehensive treatment program instead of jail: $15,000 per offender.
    1. Without a source, I cannot verify this. But given that their earlier fact 28 shows a significant drop in recidivism with treatment, and low recidivism overall, this is a good thing: Treatment, as they just showed, is better than incarceration. 
  33. The average number of victims for a pedophile who prefers boys over girls: over 100.
    1. See fact number 6, and this source. This is wrong.
  34. It is not unusual for a sex offender to spend years developing a trustworthy reputation so that they can be near children and commit an offense that many just cannot believe.
    1. Around 66% of sex offenders, as discussed in fact number 3, have offenses against children. Also, most sex offenses are committed by first-time offenders. So this "fact" is not only not true for all sex offenders, this is not true for most child sexual abuse cases, because sex offenders are not responsible. It is true that sexual abusers (not sex offenders) spend anywhere from weeks to years grooming their victim, and the signs of grooming are a reliable indicator, but looking only at sex offenders is a mistake.
  35. Only 33% of the sex offenses that occur to children between the ages of 12-19 are ever reported. This is half of the amount of sex offenses that are reported when the victim is between the ages of 35-49.
    1. Most studies put the reporting rate for child sexual abuse at 38-50%, not 33%.
  36. Although 50 percent of violent crime victims over the age of 12 contact police, only 36 percent of sexual assault victims over the age of 12 report the crime to authorities.
    1. So what? This is not scary, what is scary is that, according to their own statistics, child sexual abuse is not reported more than it is reported, which means that the bigger risk comes from people who have never been caught.
  37. Only about 30% of rapes are ever reported to police. Research indicates that sex offenses are one of the most underreported crimes that happen.
    1. According to RAINN, this is true. It is also true that of the 310/1000 victims of rape, only 6 will result in an incarcerated rapist, and only 7 will result in a felony conviction.
The Rest Of Their Information

The rest of their information is shady. They state that no one is safe from being targeted by a sex offender (as if sex offenders are the biggest threat, when they are not), and discuss what qualifies as a sex crime and the effects victimization can have (very, very briefly). They state that "virtually every pedophile will become a child molester" (which, as I have discussed before, is a myth that does not stand up to looking at the facts and statistics available on the matter: At worst, only 3-5.2% of pedophiles do molest children, and adjusting for underreporting, at least 74.4% of pedophiles do not molest children).

They discuss underreporting as the most significant issue to sex crimes (while it is a big deal, the bigger deal is that we spend a hugely disproportionate amount of our efforts on a population that does not commit sex crimes: Sex offenders). They discuss being vigilant, and note "listen for your kids in your backyard" and "don't let them wander off in a store all alone" when 80% of child sexual abuse happens in the residence (page 3) of the victim or perpetrator, not outside or in a store. So their idea of vigilance, and the bulk of their facts, do not stand up to reality.

I conclude that whoever wrote the article had no idea what they were talking about, and while they seemed to be well-intentioned, spreading myths about sex crimes is a surefire way to enable them to happen. When we listen for our children in the backyard rather than focusing on the warning behaviors in potential abusers, we fool ourselves into thinking everything is okay. Facts protect children. Myths do not.