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Sex offender recidivism less than other felons' 

Gregory, Lauren, Times Free Press, September 2, 2007

Those convicted of sex crimes in Tennessee are significantly less likely to re-offend than other types of felons, according to a recent study that experts say confirms what they have known for more than a decade.

"It goes against normal public perspective because people believe they are always going to re-offend," said Tim Dempsey, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Chattanooga Endeavors, which seeks to help those released from prison transition back into society. "But if you're just looking at risk, sex offenders have always been in that lower-risk category."

For the study, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation followed 1,116 male offenders for three years after their releases in 2001, according to TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. Half the offenders had been convicted of sex crimes and the other half non-sex crimes, Ms. Helm said. Results were released in August, showing that 28 percent of the sex offenders were recommitted to the prison system, compared with 52 percent of other felons.

The sex offenders who were recommitted tended to remain on the streets longer before their next arrest, according to the study, which recorded statutory rapists, offenders who committed sexual battery and rapists as those with the highest re-arrest rates. Some skeptics wonder whether there are other factors affecting the reported dichotomy in repeat offense rates.

"They may offend less, or their victims may be less likely to report, as sex offenses are very difficult to prosecute," 

said Dr. Charlotte Boatwright, president of the Coalition of Domestic and Community Violence of Greater Chattanooga and coordinator of the Chattanooga Family Justice Alliance.

"Victims often feel that it is useless to report it, as their character is put on trial to distract from the case against the (perpetrator), and they are terribly re-victimized in the process," Dr. Boatwright said. "Victims of sexual assault suffer the trauma for years, some for the remainder of their lives."

The study's findings echo results of two previous TBI recidivism studies, Ms. Helm said, one conducted in the early 1990s and a second in 1997. In analyzing the results, she said, experts have pointed to an important difference between sex crime cases and other cases -- the fact that sex offenders might have less opportunity to re-offend because they spend more time behind bars.

"Sex offenders tend to 'flatten' their sentences," Ms. Helm said, citing the study. "Other felons tend to be let out on probation or parole."

This also means that sex offenders are more likely to be older upon their release, Mr. Dempsey noted.

"They're coming out at an older age, and that dramatically affects recidivism," he said.

Yet another variable is the intensive supervision involved after sex crime convictions, he said, both from the public and from the justice system.

"We require them to go through an awful lot of therapy, and it's not short term," Mr. Dempsey said. "In a lot of cases, it's lifelong, and they can't get out of it."

The state's approved sex offender rehabilitation program involves weekly therapy, according to Dr. H. James Meginley, whose practice, Alternatives Counseling Associates in Chattanooga, treats both offenders and victims of sex crimes. The curriculum -- which takes about two years to complete -- includes work in communications, stress management, cognitive restructuring, personal relapse prevention and human sexuality, among other issues, Dr. Meginley said.

Mr. Dempsey acknowledged that some degree of recidivism likely will always be present among the convicted felon population, including among sex offenders. But with an overcrowded prison system, he said, there seems to be little choice in the matter.

"There's only one way of achieving (a zero repeat offense rate)," Mr. Dempsey said. "That's not to let them out at all."

Released sex offenders

44.1 percent had no further contact with criminal justice system. 
27.9 percent were arrested at one time but were not readmitted to the Tennessee Department of Correction. 
28.1 percent were recommitted to the TDOC. 
The frequent recommitment type: "crimes against society" violations (includes gambling, prostitution and drug violations) 


Other released offenders

22.2 percent had no further contact with the criminal justice system.
26.2 percent had at least one arrest but were not readmitted to the TDOC.   
51.6 percent were recommitted to the TDOC. 
Most frequent recommitment type: "technical" offense (failure to comply with conditions of supervised release) 
Most frequent re-arrest offense: "theft of property"

Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Statistics Unit, Recidivism Study, August 2007

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