Much of the concern over sex offenders stems from the perception that if they have committed one sex offense, they are almost certain to commit more. This is the reason given for why sex offenders (instead of, say, murderers, armed robbers, drug dealers or those who have physically harmed a child) should be monitored and separated from the public once released from prison.
The high recidivism rate among sex offenders is repeated so often that it is usually accepted as truth, but in fact recent studies show that the recidivism rates for sex offenses is quite low. According to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study ("Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994"), just five percent of sex offenders followed for three years after their release from prison in 1994 were arrested for another sex crime. Five percent is hardly a high repeat offender rate.
And contrary to public misconception, contrary to what's driving most of the current legislation, as a group, sex offenders actually have a lower rate or recidivism (25 percent lower) than people who commit other crimes of serious criminal acts and that's quite different from what most people tend to presume.
Dr. Fred Berlin, head of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore, published a large study - now I'm talking about men in treatment - of over 600 individuals who, in the past, committed significant sexual offenses. It was a relatively short-term follow up of a little bit over five years, but during that five year period better than 90 percent of the of men who were in treatment were not accused of a subsequent sexual offense.
The issue is not whether children need to be protected; of course they do. The issues are whether the danger to them is great, and whether the measures proposed will ensure their safety. While the abduction, rape, and killing of children by strangers is very, very rare, such incidents receive a lot of media coverage, leading the public to overestimate how common these cases are. Most sexually abused children are not victims of convicted sex offenders nor Internet pornographers, and most sex offenders do not re-offend once released. This information is rarely mentioned by journalists more interested in sounding alarms than objective analysis.
If changes must to be made to the Criminal records Act than let those changes be based on objective analysis. Excluding sex offenders from access to a pardon is not justifiable since we know that more than 80% of sex offenders who have undergone treatment do not reoffend, according to preliminary results of a 15-year prospective study of 626 individuals reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. Excluding access to a pardon then would likely arise from a desire for vengeance rather than a desire to protect society.
The truth may not be as sensational (i.e. ‘newsworthy’) as some of the statements made by a few ignorant and opportunistic bureaucrats, but I hope you will agree with me that it is a story which nevertheless must be told.