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Sexual crime studies shows repeats are low

Supporters of tough new laws say convicts just get smarter 

By Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News February 13, 2007

A study of nearly 2,000 Alaska ex-cons challenges the widely held
conviction that sex criminals are more likely to strike again than other lawbreakers when they get out of prison.

The study, by the Alaska Judicial Council, found that sex offenders are among the criminals least likely to get in trouble once they've done their time and been released.

The study says only 3 percent of sex offenders were convicted of another sex crime within three years of release from jail. 

The most despised of criminals, sex offenders are widely held to be
incurable and more likely to repeat their acts than those who commit other violent crimes. Backers of new laws that drastically increased jail time for sex criminals say they are skeptical of the report and stand by the tougher penalties.

The report says people convicted of property crimes such as theft and burglary were most likely to get arrested again for any crime, at a rate of 67 percent. 

In comparison, people convicted of sex crimes were arrested again for any crime 39 percent of the time -- the lowest rate on the list, which includes vehicle crimes such as drunk driving, drug offenses and other types of violent crime.

The Judicial Council conducted the study and mailed it to state 
officials, academics and national organizations late last month.
Researchers tracked Alaskans who were charged with a felony in 1999 to see if convicts broke parole, got arrested or were convicted of a new crime within three years of their release.

Among the findings:

Nearly 60 percent of all criminals were re-arrested within three years -- a fourth of those arrests coming within the first six months after release. 
The youngest criminals were most likely to get caught a second time. 
Regardless of the crime, people with alcohol or drug problems, mental illness and little money re-offended at a higher rate.

Sen[ator] Hollis French, D-Anchorage, a former prosecutor, read the new report while on a plane from Juneau. One weakness in the study, he said, is that it didn't count people who committed the most serious crimes.

That's because the timing of the study limited it to those who served short sentences -- incarcerated in 1999, out by around 2003.

Larry Cohn, the council executive director, acknowledged the most
serious offenders aren't included in the statistics -- meaning
first-degree sex criminals, first-degree assailants or murderers.

Only a small number of the people charged with a felony in 1999 fell into those categories and were still in prison and ineligible to be counted, he said. 

"Things aren't necessarily working so well, and what this information helps policymakers and legislators do is focus on those offenders that recidivate the most," he said. 

French said the report supports his belief that the state needs more
probation officers: Many repeat offenders get in trouble again right
after they get out of jail, the study shows.

Along with a related, soon-to-be-released evaluation of therapeutic
courts, the study was paid for with about $40,000 in alcohol tax revenue through the state health department, Cohn said.

The report did not track offenders who left the state and perhaps
committed crimes somewhere else.

The Department of Public Safety in Hawaii reported results in 2005
similar to the Alaska study, finding that 3 percent of the adult felony sex offenders released since 1988 had been convicted of another felony sex crime, according to The Honolulu Advertiser. 

In a much larger study of 15 states by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 5 percent of the roughly 9,700 male sex offenders released from prison in 1994 were re-arrested for a sex crime within three years. 

Rep[ublican] Anna Fairclough, an Eagle River Republican and former head of Standing Together Against Rape, or STAR, was unfazed by the Alaska report, which the Judicial Council says is the first of its kind here.

Sex offenders learn how not to get caught again, she said.

"Some of these people are very, very bright. They're just very, very bad."

Anchorage Republican Sen[ator] Con Bunde sponsored a law adopted last yearthat launched severe penalties for people convicted of sex crimes. The measure tripled sentences for offenses such as sexual abuse of a child.

Bunde said Friday he hadn't seen the Judicial Council report yet but was skeptical of the numbers and that nothing would persuade him to repeal the new laws. 

"How much counseling would it take you to change your basic sexuality? Some folks are just hard-wired as pedophiles," he said. 

Cohn said the report's findings are not surprising and reflect other
studies across the country.

Bunde and former Rep[ublican] Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, who co-sponsored the sex crimes bill, said the thrust of the tougher penalties was more about the large number of sex crimes committed in Alaska than about a high rate of repeat offenders. 

"It was really, these are horrible crimes and the sentences should reflect those crimes," Guess said.

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