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Recidivism Rates Among Child Molesters and Rapists: A Methodological Analysis

Abstract

We address the high variability in sex offender recidivism rates by examining several of the critical methodological differences that underlie this variability. We used a dataset on 251 sex offenders (136 rapists and 115 child molesters) who were discharged over a 25-year period to examine changes in recidivism as a function of changes in dispositional definition of reoffense (e.g., arrest or conviction), changes in the domain of criminal offenses that are considered, and changes in the length of exposure time. The data indicate that: (a) both rapists and child molesters remain at risk to reoffend long after their discharge, in some cases 15–20 years after discharge; (b) there was a marked underestimation of recidivism when calculating a simple proportion (%) consisting of those who were known to have reoffended during the follow-up period, and (c) there was a marked underestimation of recidivism when the criterion was based on conviction or imprisonment. Forensic, clinical and policy implications of this high variability are discussed.

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Correspondence to Robert A. Prentky.

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Prentky, R.A., Lee, A.F.S., Knight, R.A. et al. Recidivism Rates Among Child Molesters and Rapists: A Methodological Analysis. Law Hum Behav 21, 635–659 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024860714738

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Keywords

  • Exposure Time
  • Social Psychology
  • High Variability
  • Policy Implication
  • Methodological Difference