Federal Courts Getting Tougher on Sex Offenders: Report

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Federal courts are taking an increasingly tougher line against sex offenders, according to data released by the United States Sentencing Commission.

The number of sex offenders convicted in the federal criminal justice system nearly doubled between 2010 and 2016, and sex offenders were more frequently convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty during that period, the Commission reported.

While individuals convicted of a sex offense comprised only 4.2 percent of overall federal offenders during fiscal year 2016—up from 3.2 percent in 2010—the number of persons convicted on sexual abuse charges went from 639 to 1,148 in the six-year period covered by the report.

At the same time, the percentage of convicted federal sex offenders who received mandatory minimum sentences “increased substantially” from 21 percent in 2004 to over 63 percent in 2016, the Commission said.

Sex offenses as a percentage of all federal convictions carrying a mandatory minimum penalty also increased, to over 19 percent in 2016.

The data was published in the sixth and final part of the Commission’s series investigating the use of federal mandatory minimum penalties.

The federal government prosecutes two types of sex offenses: sexual abuse or “contact” offenses that involve actual sexual contact with a victim regardless of age; and child pornography offenses.  An offense related to the production of pornography depicting an actual child is also considered a “contact” offense.

Mandatory minimum penalties for sex offenses have been generally applied less often in the federal system compared to other mandatory minimum penalties.

The Commission reported that although the number of child pornography offenders has remained “relatively stable” between 2010 and 2016, the percentage of child pornography offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty increased, from 50.2 percent in fiscal year 2010 to a high of 61.2 percent in 2014, before leveling off to 59.6 percent in fiscal 2016.

Convicted child pornographers accounted for 5.1 percent of the federal prison population as of Sept. 30, 2016.

Sex offenders in both categories received tougher penalties than others convicted under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

The average sentence for offenders convicted of a sexual abuse offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty was nearly three times longer than the average sentence for offenders convicted of a sexual abuse offense not carrying a mandatory minimum penalty (252 months compared to 86 months), the Commission said.

Child pornographers with a prior sex conviction automatically face a ten-year mandatory minimum penalty.

The data showed that sex offenders are demographically different than other offenders.

For instance, Native American offenders comprised a larger percentage of sexual abuse offenders than of any other offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. They constituted 11.7 percent of sexual abuse offenders overall and represented the largest portion (28.2 percent) of sexual abuse offenders convicted of an offense not carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.

Notably, in 2016, the average age of sexual abuse offenders was 37, the same as the average age of federal offenders overall. Offenders convicted of a sexual abuse offense and offenders convicted of a sexual abuse offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were fairly evenly distributed throughout all age brackets, except there were fewer in the “younger than 21” category.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer with The Crime Report.

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