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Bob Dyer: Sex offender statistics surprising

5-10-15 National:

by Bob Dyer Part-3 of 3

How are sex offenders different from you and me?

They just are, says a college professor who not only has multiple degrees in psychology and sociology, but also worked for 30 years in Ohio’s prison system.

“A person’s sexuality is something that no one really knows where it comes from,” says Norman Rose, an assistant professor of sociology at Kent State. “It’s not changeable.

“Homosexuals, for example, don’t choose to be homosexuals. They are.

“So if someone’s a pedophile, they are a pedophile. If I’m a bank robber or thief or carjacker or something, I can be taught to change my values on that. But if a person has a sexual orientation that’s criminal, that’s not changeable.”

This subject has been a topic of conversation since the recent firing of the Akron RubberDucks public address announcer, whose offense dated back to 2003.

Mind you, Rose is not saying that criminal sexual behavior can’t be changed. Ohio and other states have been using a “relapse prevention model” that he believes has been reasonably effective.

Similar to the approach used with alcoholics and drug addicts, the program identifies actions and thoughts that trigger the inappropriate behavior.

The most important factor in treatment, Rose says, is “getting them to accept or to acknowledge that they have a sexual deviancy, and then getting them to address what we call ‘thinking errors.’

“So if a guy thinks that a woman dressed up is ‘asking for it,’ that’s the kind of thinking error that you have to address.”

Rose was a warden for 10 years at three prisons. He ran the Lorain Correctional Institution, one of three state “reception centers” where inmates are sent for initial evaluations; the Northeast Reintegration Center, a women’s prison in Cleveland; and the Richland Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in Mansfield.

When asked whether sex offenders seem to behave differently in prison than other offenders, Rose says, “Not really.

“You hear people say [prisoners] don’t like sex offenders. But in prisons, some people don’t like sex offenders and some Bloods don’t like Crips and some whites don’t like blacks and some inmates don’t like the management and the union doesn’t like the management and the management doesn’t like certain things.

“There’s a whole lot of hatred in prison, and it’s an enclosed space. So I think most people just learn to get along.”

Just how often sex offenders who leave prison return to prison is the subject of considerable debate. An unbelievably large number of studies have been conducted, with widely varying results.

Different readers have directed me to dozens of studies that place the recidivism rate anywhere from 3 percent to 25 percent.

Part of the problem is the number of variables: Exactly what are we classifying as a “sex crime”? What time period are we looking at after their release? What are the demographics of the offenders? Do we define recidivism as re-arrests or re-convictions?

Studying the studies

Because there are so many studies, the most logical source seems to be a meta-study — a study that analyzes the findings of numerous previous studies.

In 2005, researchers Karl Hanson and Kelly Morton-Bourgon examined a whopping 82 studies involving nearly 30,000 offenders with an average follow-up of five to six years. They found that the overall sex-offense recidivism rate was 13.7 percent. But in the studies covering 15 years, the rate was 24 percent.

Most studies showed significant differences in recidivism rates depending on the type of offense. The worst rate involves men who molest boys. After 15 years, 35 percent have reoffended.

Overall, the recidivism rate for sex offenders is lower than for general offenders. Rose says most folks are surprised by that because “people realize that sexuality is psychologically and biologically imbedded in a person, and they perceive that a sex offender cannot be rehabilitated.”

Although plenty of social scientists question whether treating sex offenders is effective, a 2005 meta-analysis of 23 previous studies concluded that treatment did cut recidivism rates by about 8 percent.

Goofy definitions

Part of the problem with all of this — and not just statistically — is that the definition of “sex offender” is so broad as to be absurd.

When Kent State’s Rose was the warden at the women’s prison, an inmate from Puerto Rico who had a child out of wedlock lost a custody battle with the father, who lived in Cleveland. She took the baby and tried to escape to the airport to fly to Puerto Rico, but was caught. The government classifies her as a “sex offender.”

Another ridiculous way to become a sex offender: stop your car to answer the pressing call of nature.

“You pull over and take a pee and somebody catches you, then that’s a ‘sex offense,’ ” Rose says. “But there’s nothing sexual about it.”

Combine those dumb classifications with ridiculous variations in sentencing (which I wrote about Thursday) and we’ve got problems.

“There’s a lot of stuff in the justice system that needs to be revamped, from policing all the way through sentencing,” Rose says. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Good luck finding a politician willing to champion the reform of sex-offender laws. by Bob Dyer

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