We find ourselves in full agreement with The Economist‘s argument against America’s draconian sex-offender laws, which prescribe too-harsh punishments for youthful blunders and other crimes unlikely to be repeated. But we were struck by this passage from the polemic, which would seem to undercut the magazine’s case:
A meta-analysis of 29,000 sex offenders in Canada, Britain and America found that 24 percent had re-offended after 15 years.
Those aren’t the sorts of odds that will make an already jumpy public get behind any sort of legal reform. What’s needed, then, is a way to better identify which offenders are most likely to become recidivists, and focus limited monitoring resources on them. But is that possible, or just a psychological pipe dream? There’s certainly no dearth of researchers who believe we’ve got the tools to identify the most rotten apples among the sex-offender lot. But do we want to spend the money?:
There is a system for classifying adult criminal behavior using the MMPI-2 and the Megargee typology. This coupled with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist is used to predict recidivism. This system has a 95+% test-retest reliability in predicting recidivism. As for adolescent offenders, the system for classifying criminal behavior is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Youth Version when coupled with the MMPI-A and the Megargee typology. It also has a 95+% test-retest reliability in predicting recidivism. These are very expensive to administer, analyze, and compile into an evaluation with recommendations. The total cost ranges from $3500 to $5000. The time-frame ranges from 2 to 6 months, depending on the availability of collateral information.
Granted, there are probably long-term savings to be had here, given that probationary controls on the majority of sex offenders could thus be relaxed. (And a lot of them would find it easier to re-enter the work force, too.) But given the American panic over sex offenders, it’s virtually impossible to imagine a politician getting within ten-foot-pole’s distance of this cause.