Monday, October 22, 2007

Sex Offenders and Recidivism

Grits for Breakfast runs a very good update on some timely Dallas Morning News articles about child sex offenders, their punishment, and the counter-intuitive, counterproductive nature of much of it. Here’s the words to memorize from the latest article:

Even when abusers are prosecuted, they rarely get long sentences. A Dallas Morning News analysis of sentencing in more than 13,000 cases of aggravated sexual assault of a child since 1991 found that four of every 10 offenders initially received no prison time at all. And when an offender was sent to prison, less than one in five got 25 years or longer.

Among the reasons: Parents are reluctant to take a relative or friend to trial; children may make poor witnesses; and despite depictions of the tattooed ex-con hiding in the bushes, most sex offenders look like the harmless guy next door.
Most of the men said they've never made amends because contact with victims generally is prohibited.

But if he could, Mr. Avara said, he'd tell her: "It's not your fault. You did nothing wrong. I'm the bad guy."

Those who know their abusers shouldn't worry about turning them in, he said.

"Nice guys don't do that," said Mr. Avara, a father of nine. "If I was a good daddy, I wouldn't be sitting here on my blessed assurance. Good daddies aren't in prison. ...Good men don't rape women. It's the bad ones."

Only one little quibble, Grits. It’s true that most studies show that sex offenders have lower recidivism rates than other offenders, but here are some provisos. Their crimes are harder to detect, it depends on the type of sex offender we’re talking about (drunk one-timer v. sociopath, for example), and many of them recidivate not with new sex offenses but with non-sex crimes. There’s a lot of legislative lunacy done in the name of protecting kids from sex offenders all lumped into one big evil bag, but there are truly some heinous people out there, too, who need serious punishment because treatment doesn’t work on them, as the one offender above admits. That’s why a smart legislature would be funding researchers and treatment providers to get clear pictures of who truly are the low recidivists, who are amenable to treatment, and who can never be trusted. It would be a much wiser investment than the kind of thing the Morning News is documenting in TX and is found just as bad in most other states.

[Oh, and Grits, you guys in TX need to stop letting your legislators eat lead paint and then get quoted. They’re all sounding like this expert American historian.]

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