The Fake Statistic That Won’t Die

The Arizona Supreme Court recently overturned a state ban on bail for people accused of sexual assault “when the proof is evident or the presumption great,” holding that the categorical exclusion violated due process. Critics are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, and their arguments highlight the continuing influence of misconception about the “frightening and high risk of recidivism” among sex offenders.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired last summer, left us that myth from an opinion he wrote 16 years ago in McKune v. Lile. The recidivism rate among untreated sex offenders, he claimed, “has been estimated to be as high as 80%,” a level he called “frightening and high.”

And false. The 80% number had its genesis in an uncorroborated assertion in a 1986 Psychology Today article by a therapist who has since denied the accuracy in what he said, saying he is “appalled” at the continuing impact of the unscientific estimate.

In fact, no study has ever found a recidivism rate anywhere near that number. A recent study of rapists and child molesters have found that 17% were convicted of another sex offense within five years of release, with 21% reconvicted within ten years.” Another study of people convicted of rape and sexual assault shows that over a five-year period, 21.4% were rearrested for violent offenses, nearly the same as the 21.7% of homicide convicts rearrested for violent offenses during the same period.

A report at Reason.com last week [November 14, 2018] concluded that even the highest recidivism rate cited by supporters of the Arizona bail law is 73% lower than the estimate on which Justice Kennedy relied. And sex offenders are a diverse group, with many never having assaulted anyone.

Original Source: Reason.com, “The ‘Frightening and High’ Factoid About Sex Offender Recidivism Still Stalks Courts Across the Land, Completely Untethered From Actual Numbers” (Nov. 14, 2018). Reprinted with permission from Legal Information Services Associates (www.lisa-legalinfo.com).

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