Sex-Offense Recidivism and Reoffense Rates in Adults


Understanding recidivism rates of sex offenders is important in determining how to devote resources to treatment and management.  Data on recidivism are confusing.  Recidivism rates for adult sex offenders have been quoted to be as low as 3% and as high as 88%.  In a survey originally completed in 2007 and updated in September 2012, Dr. Brake reviewed 48 recidivism studies published between 1980 and 2009 in an attempt to arrive at an understanding of what the literature says about recidivism.  A number of research studies which explored the reporting rates of sex offenses are also reviewed and a discussion is provided about the distinction between recidivism rates and actual reoffense rates.

The review illustrates that there is, indeed, considerable variability in reported recidivism rates.  However, the findings taken as a whole seem to suggest that aggregate recidivism rates increase over time, sex crimes are largely under reported,  and that recidivism rates probably underestimate reoffense rates.  They suggest that most adult sex offenders will not reoffend in the short run but that many if not most reoffend after a prolonged period of time, at least in the absence of treatment and supervision interventions.  We believe that it is important that sex-offense-specific evaluations incorporate what is known about recidivism, reoffense, and treatment effectiveness in  making decisions about which offenders require intensive sex-offense-specific treatment and which do not. 

To see and download the entire review, click here (Adobe Acrobat required). Please note, however, that several new and potentially important studies have appeared since this review was last updated in 2011 and are not included; the review cannot be considered as current although it may be updated again in the future. 

We are happy to receive comments and feedback about the review:  Contact Us.

Dr. Brake also conducted a separate survey of studies which attempted to address whether treatment and supervision can reduce recidivism; see Treatment Effectiveness page on this website).