Sex Offender Recidivism Unlikely, Wa. Study Says

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To deal with prison overcrowding, Washington State lawmakers could go easier on the type of inmate least likely to reoffend: sex offenders, says the Seattle Times. An analysis of felon recidivism over the past two decades has found that 70 percent of inmates convicted of sex offenses were at the lowest risk of reoffending. Yet the finding by the Legislature’s nonpartisan research unit will do little to help ease prison overcrowding so acute that the state rents 230 cells at a Nevada prison and will rent more. Washington created the nation’s first sex-offender registry, and sex offenders remain a “political hot potato” in Olympia, said Rep. Al O’Brien, a retired Seattle police sergeant who heads the House corrections committee. “You start talking about sex offenders, and people start fading away, their eyes glaze over, their mind is closed,” said O’Brien. “I don’t think we’re going to go there.”

Asked to find the best candidates for community supervision or for shorter sentences, Robert Barnoski of the Washington Institute for Public Policy found just 2 percent of drug offenders and 18 percent of violent felons were rated low risk for reoffending in a Department of Corrections risk assessment. Low risk was defined as an 8 percent chance of an inmate committing a felony when released. Seven out of 10 sex criminals met that low-risk definition. That doesn’t surprise researchers, who’ve seen f studies showing only a small core of sex offenders are untreatable. “People may not be able to tolerate the probability of recidivism (for sex offenders) because of the cost involved,” said Barnoski. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. There may be a 1-in-6 chance the bullet is there, but the cost is high if it is.” State prisons are 1,519 inmates over their capacity of 14,224.


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