RI: Letter: Leo Carroll: Base sex offender laws on facts rather than myths [opinion]


Two decades of research regarding the effects of sex offender laws have produced no evidence that such laws achieve their stated purposes. A recent review of research on community notification and residency restriction laws in the Oxford Handbook of Sex Offences and Sex Offenders concludes that such legislation is “misinformed and simply incorrect.”

These laws are knee-jerk reactions to hysteria fueled by media narratives of sensational but exceptional tragedies; they are based on myths rather than facts. The first myth is that sex offenders are strangers, when in fact the overwhelming number of sex offenses are committed by family members, acquaintances or persons in positions of authority whom the victim trusts or relies upon.

The second myth is that sex offenders, particularly rapists and child molesters, chronically reoffend. Factual evidence tells us otherwise. The Bureau of Justice Statistics followed 9,691 sex offenders released from prison in 1994. Only 14 percent had had a prior conviction for a sex crime, and in the three years following their release, only 5 percent were re-arrested for a sex crime and only 3.5 percent were convicted.

A third myth is that sex offenders cannot be treated successfully. The majority of nearly 100 studies conducted since the 1970s finds treatment can reduce sexual recidivism, and any recidivism, by about 25 percent, and the more recent studies find the strongest effects.

Because they are based on myths, laws requiring community notification and restricting residency do nothing to ensure public safety and may in fact be counterproductive. Stigmatizing and isolating offenders may lead many of them to adopt a transient lifestyle that eludes monitoring and deprives them of support and treatment.

Leo Carroll

North Kingstown

The writer is a professor of sociology and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Rhode Island.

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Thank you, Leo Carroll

I have a question: If “[t]wo decades of research regarding the effects of sex offender laws have produced no evidence that such laws achieve their stated purposes,” then how does the government rationalize a sex offender registry for anyone?

CASOMB and others will say a registry is necessary for “high” risk individuals. CASOMB then claims to be an “evidence-based” organization. Yet why does CASOMB ignore the fact that sex offender laws have produced no evidence that such laws achieve their stated purpose? Equally, why does CASOMB continue to peddle the Static-99R when the “studies” that push the Static are written by the very people — i.e. Karl Hanson, et al. — who created the Static “tests?”

There’s also a study commissioned by Oregon that found “treatment” has no effect on recidivism, and may even increase it in some cases. Of course, that part of the findings and recommendations weren’t submitted to the legislature by the committee that commissioned the study. That particular finding surprises some, but many disbelieve it.

But think about it for a minute. Many crimes (sex crimes included) are committed because of poor judgment or just plain stupidity, neither of which are mental health issues. “Treating” a nonexistent illness or injury often causes other illnesses or injury. Who in their right mind would go through chemotherapy if there was no cancer?

The same goes with mental health treatment. Over time, the patient either becomes mentally ill or, particularly in cases of treatment ordered by courts or corrections departments, illnesses have to be created or faked just to give the provider something to treat.

Most SO treatment I’ve seen is absolutely worthless. Even if they find at screening that the “patient” is perfectly adjusted, they recommend treatment, meaning the person will go through treatment regardless because the PO/court (none of whom are qualified to make such a diagnosis) ordered it. Of course, money for the provider has nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. [/sarcasm]

"Treatment" basically means you must feel like a perfect waste of humanity (because if you don't, you're obviously ill) and if you don't, they'll make you by frequently repeating the circumstances of your offense repeatedly in front of large, often changing groups. Once you do, the provider can convince you that you aren't, which takes as long as the court/PO says. Oh, and you have to pay for it. It's important to help you dedicate yourself to your new mental well-being. It goes without saying that the only mentally adjusted sex offenders are those rendered homeless and unemployable. [/sarcasm]

As infuriating as that is, it is equally sad that those in prison that genuinely are mentally disturbed – and no doubt that is a significant portion of the prison population – will never spend one meaningful minute with a therapist or counselor, the majority of whose time is spent administering ineffective "treatment" where it is often not necessary. Recidivism of those individuals is inordinately high, yet no one wants to address that, at least not in any meaningful way.

The best "treatment" for crime is to pay for it in some regard and most learn not to repeat it. Prison itself is often good for that. Yes, some will return to prison for new crime. But that's not necessarily mental illness either. Like it or not, some people are too stupid to learn from their own mistakes, some are institutionalized, some are too lazy to try to make an honest living. And – brace yourself – some are just self-centered, inconsiderate a**h***s.

This is good, more and more people becoming vocal on this subject. The registry is based on emotions and hysteria, and it has no factual evidence to justify it or to verify if it works.

All of the comments about SO therapy is dead on. My spouse is currently in the throes of it now and it is all about shaming and demeaning the individual. To make a long story short, my spouse always struggled with depression but never sought help. Depression is his main struggle and he told his therapist that in a one-on-one session and even though he has lost about 45 pounds in the past few months (and has never been a larger person) the therapist has never expressed concern about either of those things! And I have to mention that the judge recognized that the issue was addictive behavior in general and not an SO issue and stated he did not have to attend SO therapy; however, the PO is making him (who also has never mentioned the weight loss or depression). These “therapists” are not there to actually help anyone. We are living in separate houses right now because we live near a school and are trying to wait until our children are finished with high school. I had to have a family member move in with my spouse because I am worried about his state of mind. We had two blows this past week with one being that my spouse could not take a promotion at work (which would get him off his feet some and give us more income as we have to have two residences now) because he would have to enter some data into a computer and his therapist doesn’t think that is a good idea. His background is in IT and nothing ever occurred at his job. Honestly, we are both at our breaking point right now. I am so thankful for sites like this as well as those individuals who are fighting for us.