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If we group various types of offenders and offenses into an ostensibly homogenous category of "sex offenders," distinctions in the factors related to recidivism will be masked and differential results obtained from studies of reoffense patterns.Thus, one of the first issues to consider in reviewing any study of sex offender recidivism is how "sex offender" is defined; who is included in this category, and, as important, who is not.
Sex offenders are a highly heterogeneous mixture of individuals who have committed violent sexual assaults on strangers, offenders who have had inappropriate sexual contact with family members, individuals who have molested children, and those who have engaged in a wide range of other inappropriate and criminal sexual behaviors.
With this in mind, practitioners making decisions about how to manage sex offenders must ask themselves the following questions: The study of recidivismthe commission of a subsequent offenseis important to the criminal justice response to sexual offending.
If sex offenders commit a wide variety of offenses, responses from both a public policy and treatment perspective may be no different than is appropriate for the general criminal population (Quinsey, 1984).
The criminal justice system manages most convicted sex offenders with some combination of incarceration, community supervision, and specialized treatment (Knopp, Freeman-Longo, and Stevenson, 1992).
While the likelihood and length of incarceration for sex offenders has increased in recent years (since 1980, the number of imprisoned sex offenders has grown by more than 7 percent per year; in 1994, nearly one in ten state prisoners were incarcerated for committing a sex offense [Greenfeld, 1997]), the majority are released at some point on probation or parole (either immediately following sentencing or after a period of incarceration in prison or jail).