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October 2, 2023

"The Counterintuitive Consequences of Sex Offender Risk Assessment at Sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted on SSRN authored by Megan T. Stevenson and Jennifer L. Doleac. Here is its abstract:

Virginia adopted a risk assessment to help determine sentencing for sex offenders.  It was incorporated as a one-way ratchet toward higher sentences: expanding the upper end of the sentence guidelines by up to 300 per cent.  This led to a sharp increase in sentences for those convicted of sexual assault.  More surprisingly, it also led to a decrease in sentences for those convicted of rape.  This raises two questions: (a) why did sentencing patterns change differently across these groups, and (b) why would risk assessment lead to a reduction in sentence length?

The first question is relatively easy to answer.  While both groups saw an expansion in the upper end of the sentencing guidelines, only sexual assault had the floor lifted on the lower end, making leniency more costly.  The second question is less straightforward.  One potential explanation is that the risk assessment served as a political or moral shield that implicitly justified leniency for those in the lowest risk category.  Even though the risk assessment did not change sentencing recommendations for low-risk individuals, it provided a 'second opinion' that could mitigate blame or guilt should the low-risk offender go on to reoffend.  This decreased the risks of leniency and counterbalanced any increase in severity for high-risk individuals.

October 2, 2023 at 10:58 AM | Permalink


The bigger issue, I think, is that the sex offender regime was created for people like Jesse Timmendequas and Lawrence Singleton. It's now being used to sweep up all sorts of crimes that aren't anywhere close to as bad. Public urination can sometimes be treated as a sex offense.

In my view, better to save the draconian stuff for bad crimes.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 2, 2023 12:59:57 PM


I couldn't agree with you more (shocking, I know).

While all sex crimes carry with it a justified sense of moral disgust, our knee-jerk over-reaction to all crimes of a sexual nature is wholly irrational, unfounded and damaging.

It has also resulted in the passage of some very bad law - specifically Megan's Law and SORNA. The imposition of these ineffective schemes upon all sex offenders have proven to be ineffective and costly in a myriad of ways.

Posted by: SG | Oct 3, 2023 7:33:38 AM

Megan's law was not a bad law. Government dropped the ball, and a little girl's life was snatched away. The problem is that the hard core sex offender regime goes way way too far when it comes to who is swept up in it and distorts our law.

I believe in harsh harsh sentences for really bad conduct. I don't believe in overkill for less serious crimes.

https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2023/10/the-lonesome-death-of-tyesha-edwards.php Tim Walz is a dirty 'rat.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 3, 2023 9:03:36 AM


Please explain why you believe that Megan’s Law would have stopped the perps from committing their crimes down the block or somewhere other than across the street from their residence. Thanks.

Posted by: SG | Oct 3, 2023 1:06:54 PM

SG, please explain why you think it's ok for sex offenders to be dumped in neighborhoods with unsuspecting families.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 3, 2023 2:48:33 PM


Because the vast majority of former offenders (approximately 97% of them) do not re-offend (referring to non-violent first time offenders). Further, the vast majority of sex offenders (95% or so) were NOT on any useless registry. The majority of them were already known to the victim’s family (relatives, family friends, teachers, coaches, priests). I’d be far more interested in repeat DUI offenders living on my street where my grandchildren play. But then we’d need a registry scheme for them. I’m sure you would support that. Right?

Posted by: SG | Oct 3, 2023 3:48:19 PM

And Federalist. Please answer my previous question which you have attempted to avoid. I’m sure you have a good response.

Posted by: SG | Oct 3, 2023 3:51:12 PM

And Federalist. Please answer my previous question which you have attempted to avoid. I’m sure you have a good response.

Posted by: SG | Oct 3, 2023 3:51:13 PM

[I am a paralegal who contracts with law firms in federal appeals and postconviction cases]

First, forgive me if this isn't posted properly. I am not allowed to have internet because the USPO for the Middle Dist of Florida forbids SOs from having internet access. Meanwhile, every other federal dist allows monitored internet (I had to get permission to use the self-checkout at Walmart because it's connected to the internet!). So, I have to pay someone to handle my online stuff -- all of it. This restriction is in place here because the USPO doesn't want to "risk" having an SO reoffend online. However, research shows that an SO will reoffend regardless of any internet restrictions and that districts with internet monitoring have fewer online reoffenses by SOs simply because they can see a pattern develop and stop it before it starts. This is just one example of blanket laws that unnecessarily restrict someone's ability to function in society. And think about this: If fed supervised release is supposed to help someone reintegrate into society, how is a total ban on internet access helping this goal in the MDFL? In fact, ostracizing SOs even further from society increases their risk of reoffense. But that's what these laws do, ostracize SOs to the point where they have no reason to stay on the right track. Where's the incentive to even try?

Florida just passed a law allowing the death penalty for sex offenses. While the Supreme Court held this was unconstitutional in Kennedy v. Louisiana back in 2008, this is clearly an effort by Florida to overturn that decision with the ultraconservative SCOTUS we have right now. But here's where I think Florida goes wildly wrong (and every other state that imposes harsh penalties on SOs): They say many sex offenses go unreported. A big reason is that sex offenses are too often committed by family members and people the victims love and trust. Knowing the person could go away for a long time, and even be put to death in Florida, will exacerbate this problem of unreported sex offenses, I think. After more than 17 years of working with sex offenders and just as long working with providers to offer better treatment, I'm not just guessing about this stuff. I've lived it. I know.

Again, please understand that I rely on someone else to handle my internet. Some days I'm lucky and get some help. Most days I'm not. Forgive any delay if you decide to respond to me.


Dale 813-538-0656 (call or text)

Posted by: ZLG | Oct 3, 2023 4:43:01 PM

SG, your numbers are a joke. You are repeating a false narrative. "97% do not reoffend" --you mean do not get caught, prosecuted, and convicted for a sexual offense, as opposed to some lesser non-sexual offense, and all within some very short time period.

Posted by: blahblahblah | Oct 3, 2023 9:15:44 PM

Mr. Blah,

Firstly, and to take an approach borrowed from noted attorney, Bill Otis, how about you sharing with this group your education, experience and training in this subject matter? And let us know if you are or were a social scientist, a prosecuting attorney, a judge, an FBI agent, a probation officer, etc.? It would be helpful.

Secondly, upon which empirical study have you relied upon to reach your conclusions and 'statements of fact'? I suspect it may be based upon law enforcement (FBI) and prosecutor's "beliefs" and "estimates" derived from unverifiable anecdotal accounts, of unknown and unverifiable origin, and of unknown and unverifiable quantities. Were these estimates derived from five such reports? Five hundred? Five million? Does your anecdotal evidence originate from Europe, Asia, the USA, Africa, South America, or all of the above?

Please note that I referred specifically to the cohort of non-violent first-time offenders. I am well aware that violent offenders tend to re-offend more frequently.

"Different types of sex offenders have different rates of recidivism" - Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs


The numbers that I had posted were derived from this same source, as well as a host of others, such as the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Posted by: SG | Oct 3, 2023 10:36:57 PM

SG, first off: your assumptions about my gender and my background reveal more about you.

Second, did you read the report you linked to?

The very first bullet point in the summary: Observed recidivism rates of sex offenders are underestimates of actual reoffending.

The third bullet point in the summary: Sexual recidivism rates range from 5 percent after three years to 24 percent after 15 years.

If you bother to scroll down, just a little bit, you will see this:

Recidivism Rates Are Not True Reoffense Rates

Recidivism rates are typically based on officially recorded information, such as an arrest, criminal conviction or incarceration. Because these official statistics reflect only offenses that come to the attention of authorities, they are a diluted measure of reoffending. Research has clearly demonstrated that many sex offenses are never reported to authorities.

See also Table 1. Sexual recidivism rate of 13-14% in a five-year follow-up period.


Thank you for proving my point.

Posted by: blahblahblah | Oct 4, 2023 12:19:09 AM

ZLG stated: “Where's the incentive to even try?”

That this question is even asked shows why SOs should be kept in prison rather than released to a registry in the first place.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 4, 2023 3:40:11 PM


I think drug addicts and alcoholics should be kept in prison and never be released. They recidivate at a rate of 60% to 70% - far more than any other chohort, and far more than s.o.'s.
They steal, lie, and spread disease. They are no good to any one. I'm sure you and 'federalist' and some others agree 100%. "Once a dope fiend, always a dope fiend". And alcoholics are even worse. Right?

Posted by: SG | Oct 5, 2023 3:48:04 AM

MS. Blah,

Firstly, and to take an approach borrowed from noted attorney, Bill Otis, how about you sharing with this group your education, experience and training in this subject matter? And let us know if you are or were a social scientist, a prosecuting attorney, a judge, an FBI agent, a probation officer, etc.? It would be helpful.

Posted by: SG | Oct 5, 2023 6:23:53 AM

SG: You have outed yourself as an ignoramus. You are a troll who is uninterested in substantive discussion. Your uninformed view was easily refuted by your own source. Unable to respond to the merits, you are stuck looking for anything that you can use as an ad hominem. How pathetic. And unproductive. I will never respond to you or your worthless comments again.

To everyone else: I suggest you don't feed the troll, SG. Shun the troll.

Posted by: blahblahblah | Oct 5, 2023 5:17:41 PM


Drug addiction and alcoholism are not crimes. And although they do sometimes commit violence to get drugs, it can be done non-violently.

Raping someone is always violent, thus incomparable.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 5, 2023 8:17:22 PM


Anyone finding themselves in a federal prison on a 'drug charge' and a personal history of drug addiction and/or alcoholism, got there because of the commission of a serious offense(s) (e.g., sales, mfg., transportation, and/or conspiracy thereof). Very likely this would not have been their first offense, nor likely will it be their last, according to recidivism rates. And if you have personal familialarity with drug traffickers, mfgs., conspirators, and the like, you would know that the vast majority DO have histories of personal drug abuse, etc. These folks are NOT angels. And their crimes are clearly NOT victimless. Your characterization minimizing their criminality only feeds into the lawlessness that plagues our country. I would have expected a far different response from someone such as yourself.

Posted by: SG | Oct 5, 2023 9:10:26 PM

1. Who limited this conversation to federal prison? The original post did not.

2. I’m over here. Stop arguing with the straw man you set up in the corner. I never said drug or alcohol abuse was victimless or that they are good people.

Rape, by definition, has a physical victim. That’s different than some drunk in his home bar.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 5, 2023 10:20:03 PM


Are you aware that a “registry for drug offenders ” has existed in the State of California for the past several decades? Why do you think our legislators determined one was necessary?

Posted by: SG | Oct 7, 2023 4:28:29 PM


I had meant to say that that registry “HAD” existed- from 1961 through 2020.

Posted by: SG | Oct 7, 2023 4:39:28 PM


One more “correction”. In 2020, the CA legislator amended the statute to exclude certain drug offenses AND close the registry to the general public (unlike the public registry for SO’s). However, the drug offender registry STILL exists for certain but not all drug offenses. Oh..and arsonists must register as well. So why not DUI offenders, as I had previously mentioned?

Posted by: SG | Oct 7, 2023 4:57:21 PM

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