By Chris Dornin
U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte is so tough on crime she misled lawmakers about the draconian New Hampshire child predator act she wrote and lobbied into law in 2006. The former state attorney general told state senators the sex crime recidivism rate for all sex offenders was 90 to 94 percent. That’s according to the verbatim transcript of her Senate Judiciary Committee testimony on April 4, 2006. Dubious statements like that underlie much of the national media and legislative hysteria that demonizes this class of offenders.
Ayotte based her claim on a Canadian study she submitted with her testimony, “Lifetime Sex Offender Recidivism: A 25 year Follow-Up Study,” published in 2004 by Ron Langevin and colleagues. That was the only research she presented, yet it must have taken Ayotte or someone on her staff days of reading academic journals to find this single most damning report.
Langevin followed 320 Canadian sex offenders first seen at the author’s clinic for evaluations between 1966 and 1974. The research team found an overall 61.1 percent sex crime recidivism rate. The same recidivism rate rose to 88.3, counting confessions in counseling and new arrests, regardless of outcome. The subgroup of molesters of children outside the family had a 94.1 sex crime recidivism rate over 25 years. That is by far the highest rate in any of the recidivism studies I’ve read or heard of. It is the number most often cited by lawmakers and judges.
But criminologists widely agree sex offenders have very low sex crime recidivism today. Indiana sex offenders released in 2005 compiled a 1.05 percent sex crime recidivism rate in the first three years out of prison. State corrections officials said this figure showed “a great deal of promise.” The typical rate in state after state is around three percent after three years.
In a rebuttal to Langevin, Canadian researcher Karl Hanson accused him of using a nonrandom sample of people chosen for evaluations as part of major prosecutions and civil commitments. In the 1960s and 1970s, only serial predators faced the loss of freedom for their sex crimes. Since then the prison census of sex offenders has risen a hundred-fold, and the folks on the sex offender registry today are far less prone to recidivism. The Internet shaming roster includes teen perpetrators who lost their virginity with their teen victims.
Hanson observed that Langevin used an unusual definition of a recidivist, anyone who has committed more than one sex offense at any time in their lives. Other social scientists define a recidivist as someone who commits a new crime after incarceration.
Canadian researcher Cheryl Webster went so far as to accuse Langevin of unethical conduct. In her essay entitled “Results by Design: The Artefactual Construction of High Recidivism Rates for Sex Offenders.” she said the Langevin sample was much larger at first. He ignored all the people who were purged from the national records after 15 years for lack of new crimes. Those were the non-recidivists.
Kelly Ayotte is capable of doing great harm in Washington.
Chris Dornin of Concord is a former correctional counselor, a retired Statehouse reporter, and chairman of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform.