Once a sex offender … always a sex offender: Myth or fact?

  • Elizabeth Turner
  • Stephen Rubin


In the current focus upon prisons, prisoners, and correctional treatment, there also seems to be an increase in fear of sex offenders. “Once a sex offender, always a sex offender” has become a common belief. The following study, however, has concluded that this phrase is mistaken and misleading. The actual number of sex offenders who recidivate are few. This study, and many prior to this one, have concluded that upwards of 65% donot commit another sex offense. Most reoffenses are committed between 1 and 5 years after release, and the percentage of reoffenders declines rapidly after. A positive correlation was found between length of time spent in prison and recidivism rates. Further studies are suggested to follow up this interesting finding.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexander, M. A. (1999). Sexual offender treatment efficacy revisited.Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 11(2), 101–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Correctional Association (1983).The American prison: From the beginning … A pictorial history. United States: American Correctional Association.Google Scholar
  3. Bèlanger, N., Earls, C. (1999). Sex offender recidivism prediction. [On-line].Forum,8(2). Available:www.csc-scc.gc.ca/test/pblct/forum.Google Scholar
  4. Belfrage, H. (1994). Recidivism among rapists in Sweden who have undergone forensic psychiatric examinations.Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 5(1), 151–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berliner, L., Schram, D., Miller, L. L., & Milloy, C. D. (1995). A sentencing alternative for sex offenders: a study of decision making and recidivism.Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10(4), 487–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bowker, Lee H. (1982).Corrections: the science and the art. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Bremer, J. F. (1992). Serious juvenile sex offenders: treatment and long-term follow-up.Psychiatric Annals, 22(6), 326–332.Google Scholar
  8. Broadhurst, R. G., & Maller, R. A. (1992). The recidivism of sex offenders in the western Australian prison population.The British Journal of Criminology, 32(1), 54–80.Google Scholar
  9. Center for Sex Offender Management (2000, August).Myths and facts about sex offenders [On-line]. Available:www.csom.org Google Scholar
  10. Dwyer, S. M. (1997). Treatment outcome study: seventeen years after sexual offender treatment.Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 9(2), 149–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eisenberg, M. (1997).Recidivism of sex offenders: Factors to consider in release decisions. Austin, TX: Criminal Justice Policy Council.Google Scholar
  12. Fitch, J. H. (1962). Men convicted of sexual offences against children: a descriptive follow-up study.British Journal of Criminology, 3, 18–37.Google Scholar
  13. Gallagher, A. C., Wilson, D. B., Hirshfield, P., Coggenshall, M. B., & MacKenzie, D. L. (1999). A quatitative review of the effects of sex offender treatment on sexual reoffending.Corrections Management Quarterly, 3(4), 19–29.Google Scholar
  14. Gendreay, P., Goggin, C., & Cullen, F. T. (1999).The effects of prison sentences on recidivism [On-line]. (Solicitor General of Canada User Report: 1999-3). Available:www.sgc.gc.ca.Google Scholar
  15. Hagan, M. P., Gust-Brey, K. L. (2000). Ten-year longitudinal study of adolescent perpetrators of sexual assault against children. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation,31(1–2), 117–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hagan, M. P., King, R. P., Patros, R. L. (1994). The efficacy of a serious sex offenders treatment program for adolescent rapists.International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 38(2), 141–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hall, G. C. N., & Proctor, W. C. (1987). Criminological predictors of recidivism in a sexual offender population.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(1), 111–112.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hanson, R. K. (1998).Predicting sex offender recidivism: Videotape training and manual [videocassettes]. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  19. Hanson, R. K., Scott, H., & Steffy, R. A. (1995). A comparison of child molesters and nonsexual criminals: Risk predictions and long-term recidivism.Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 32(3), 325–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hanson, R. K., Steffy, R. A., & Gauthier, R. (1992). Long-term follow-up of child molesters: Risk predictors and treatment outcome [On-line] (Solicitor General of Canada No. 1992-02). Available:www/sgc/gc/ca.Google Scholar
  21. Hanson, R. K., Steffy, R. A., & Gauthier, R. (1993). Long-term recidivism of child molesters.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(4), 646–652.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hedderman, C. and Sugg, D. (1996). Does treating sex offenders reduce reoffending?Home Office Research and Statistics Directorate: Research Findings, No. 45 [On-line]. Available:www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs/r45.pdf Google Scholar
  23. Kruttschnitt, C., Uggen, C., Shelton, K. (2000). Predictors of desistance among sex offenders: the interaction of formal and informal social controls.Justice Quarterly, 17(1), 61–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Marshall, W. L., Jones, R., Ward, T., Johnston, P., & Barbaree, H. E. (1991). Treatment outcome with sex offenders.Clinical Psychology Review, 11, 465–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Marques, J. K., Day, D. M., Nelson, C., & West, M. A. (1994). Effects of cognitive-behavioral treatment of sex offender recidivism: preliminary results of a longitudinal study.Criminal Justice and Behavior, 21(1), 28–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Marques, J. K., Nelson, C., West, M. A., & Day, D. M. (1994). The relationship between treatment goals and recidivism among child molesters.Behavior Research and Therapy, 32(5), 577–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Motiuk, L. L., Brown, S. L. (1996, August).Factors related to recidivism among released federal sex offenders. Paper presented at the XXVI International Congress of Psychology, Montreal, Canada.Google Scholar
  28. Prentky, R., Burgess, A. W. (1990). Rehabilitation of child molesters: a cost-benefit analysis.American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 60(1), 108–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Prentky, R. A., Lee, A. F. S., Knight, R. A., & Cerce, D. (1997). Recidivism rates among child molesters and rapists: a methodological analysis.Law and Human Behavior, 21(6), 635–659.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Proulx, J., Pellerin, B., Paradis, Y., McKibben, A., Aubut, J., & Ouimet M. (1997). Static and dynamic predictors of recidivism in sexual aggressors.Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 9, 7–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Quinsey, V. L., Harris, G. T., Rice, M. E., Cormier, C. A. (1998).Violent offenders: Appraising and managing risk. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  32. Quinsey, V. L., Rice, M. E., and Harris, G. T. (1995). Actuarial prediction of sexual recidivism.Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10(1), 85–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rice, M. E., Quinsey, V. L., & Harris G. T. (1991). Sexual recidivism among child molesters released from a maximum security psychiatric institution.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59(3), 381–386.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Romero, J. J., Williams, L. M. (1985). Recidivism among convicted sex offenders: A 10-year follow-up study. Federal Probation,49(1), 58–64.Google Scholar
  35. Serin, R. C., Mailloux, D. L., & Malcolm, P. B. (2001). Psychopathy, deviant sexual arousal, and recidivism among sexual offenders.Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16(2), 234–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Spie, R., Jensen, E., Everett, R. (1998). Adolescent sexual offenders grown up: recidivism in young adulthood.Criminal Justice and Behavior, 25(1), 109–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Song, L., Lieb, R., (1995) Washington State Sex Offenders: Overview of Recidivism Studies. Olympia Washington: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.Google Scholar
  38. Sreenivasan, S., Kirkish, P., Garrick, T., Weinberger, L. E., Phenix, A. (2000). Actuarial risk assessment models: A review of critical issues related to violence and sex-offender recidivism assessments.Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 28, 438–448.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Studer, L. H., Reddon, J. R., Roper, V., & Estrada, L. (1996). Pheonix: an inhospital treatment program for sex offenders.Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 23(1/2), 91–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. U.S. Department of Justice- Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997).Sex offenses and offenders: An analysis of data on rape and sexual assault. (NCJ 163392). Washington, DC: Greenfeld, L.Google Scholar
  41. U.S. Department of Justice- Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000).Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics-1999. (NCJ 183727). Albany, NY: Pastore, A. & Maguire, K.Google Scholar
  42. U.S. Department of Justice- Bureau of Justice Statistics (1990–2000).Uniform crime reports for the United States. Washington, DC: Bureau of Investigation.Google Scholar
  43. U.S. Department of Justice- Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin (2000).Prisoners in 1999 [On-line] (NCJ 183476). Washington, DC: Beck, A. J. Available:www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/ Google Scholar
  44. Washington State Institute for Public Policy (1998).Sexually violent predators and civil commitment: a study of the characteristics and recidivism of sex offenders considered for civil commitment but for whom proceedings were declined (Doc. No. 98-02-1101). Arlington, WA: Schram, D., Milloy, C. D.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Turner
    • 1
  • Stephen Rubin
    • 1
  1. 1.Whitman CollegeWalla WallaUSA

Personalised recommendations