Issue: Risk Assessment

risk-assessment-sex-offenders.jpgWhile sex offenders as a whole have a very low rate of committing new sexual crimes, all offenders do not have the same rate of recidivism.  Therefore it is reasonable, utilizing the most current scientific tools available, to make a best effort to assess the risk of individual offenders.

USA FAIR believes that classification of offenders on the registry should be based on risk assessment for a self-evident reason:  Decades of research has proven that all offenders who commit the same crime do not pose the same risk of re-offending.   

Since the registry’s creation, it has been the stated purpose of classifying former offenders into levels or tiers to provide a tool to gage whether a particular offender presents a low, medium or high risk of recidivism. We therefore strongly oppose the provision in the federal Adam Walsh Act that seeks to have states shift from a risk-based classification system to a conviction-based system.  Basing risk levels on the conviction destroys even the pretense of the registry offering a risk assessment tool and discards decades of research conducted by leading criminologists.

USA FAIR acknowledges that actuarial based risk assessment tools, such as STATIC-99, STATIC-2002, MnSOST-R, VASOR and RRASOR, which are point scoring systems that look at certain factors that apply to the offender and victim at the time of the conviction, have shown more success at predicting recidivism than other methods. However, it is important to note that the authors of Static-99, the most widely used risk assessment tool, have cautioned that offenders convicted since the 1990's are showing much lower recidivism rates than their original intrument's sample of offenders convicted in the 1960's, 70's and 80's.  This underscores the need to continually review and update these assement instruments with the most contemporary data and to evaluate offenders and offenses in greater context.

While we prefer such static actuarial methods to punitive conviction-based methods - we ultimately favor a move toward so-called dynamic assessments. Dynamic assessments would allow offenders to have their risk classification re-evaluated over time as circumstances change.  For example, numerous studies show that treatment reduces recidivism (Gallagher et al. (1999), Hanson et al. (2002), Losel & Schmucker (2004).  Similarly, offense-free tenure in the community also reduces recidivism, with a sharp drop to 4% after 10 years (Harris & Hanson, 2004).

USA FAIR believes that success should be rewarded and recidivism studies acknowledged in allowing former offenders who successfully complete treatment programs and demonstrate years of law-abiding behavior to have an opportunity to have their level or tier reduced – and eventually to have their name removed from the registry.

Finally, it is important to remember that all such assessment instruments are just actuarial tools.  If actuaries say that your life expectancy is 73 years old it does not mean that you cannot live longer by good behaviors such as watching your weight and not smoking.  Similarly, former sex offenders can reduce and eliminate recidivism by engaging in good behaviors.  The fact that even most of those deemed high risk have not re-offended is testament that individuals are ultimately in control of their own destinies and that they should be judged as individuals and not pre-judged because they have been assigned a label by a government bureaucracy.


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