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June 6, 2019

Critically reviewing how the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reviewed its sex offender recidivism data

Last week I blogged here about the Bureau of Justice Statistics' press release providing highlights of this big report titled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)."  A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this notable new piece by Wendy Sawyer over at Prison Policy Initiative reacting to these documents.  This posting is fully titled "BJS fuels myths about sex offense recidivism, contradicting its own new data: A new government report reinforces harmful misconceptions about people convicted of sex offenses. Here's our take on how to parse the data."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

A new report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics should put an end to this misconception: The report, Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-2014), shows that people convicted of sex offenses are actually much less likely than people convicted of other offenses to be rearrested or go back to prison.

But you wouldn’t know this by looking at the report’s press release and certain parts of the report itself, which reinforce inaccurate and harmful depictions of people convicted of sex offenses as uniquely dangerous career criminals.  The press release and report both emphasize what appears to be the central finding: “Released sex offenders were three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for a sex offense.” That was the headline of the press release.  The report itself re-states this finding three different ways, using similar mathematical comparisons, in a single paragraph.

What the report doesn’t say is that the same comparisons can be made for the other offense categories: People released from sentences for homicide were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for a homicide; those who served sentences for robbery were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for robbery; and those who served time for assault, property crimes, or drug offenses were also more likely (by 1.3-1.4 times) to be rearrested for similar offenses. And with the exception of homicide, those who served sentences for these other offense types were much more likely to be rearrested at all.

The new BJS report, unfortunately, is a good example of how our perception of sex offenders is distorted by alarmist framing, which in turn contributes to bad policy. That this publication was a priority for BJS at all is revealing: this is the only offense category out of all of the offenders included in the recidivism study to which BJS has devoted an entire 35-page report, even though this group makes up just 5% of the release cohort. This might make sense if it was published in an effort to dispel some myths about this population, but that’s not what’s happening here.

Prior related post:

June 6, 2019 at 11:59 PM | Permalink

Comments

Thank you Doug for this follow up. As soon as I saw the contents of your original post I knew something was very badly wrong with the study.

Posted by: restless94110 | Jun 8, 2019 3:39:34 PM

I tried reading through the report, but for me it was very discombobulated. I felt someone reading it would could easily come away thinking that recidivism rates were going up. Then I have to remind myself that after serving 20 years in the Federal Government, no department is going make things look great, that could lead to downsizing of a department. I doubt that the DOJ could ever do any report hat could cause them to downsize. They must keep the fear alive, that is what will serve them best!

Posted by: Steve G | Jun 13, 2019 10:29:22 PM

Sounds like fraud to me

Posted by: Rodsmith | Jun 22, 2019 3:14:04 AM

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