December 05, 2018 Practice Points

Five Facts About Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

By Riya Saha Shah

Sex offender registries were established to keep children and communities safer. But, research shows that registration incorrectly presumes that children who commit sexual offenses are a risk to their communities. Here are five facts, based in research, that lawyers need to know.

  1. Youth who commit sexual offenses in childhood are unlikely to commit a subsequent sex offense. Studies universally confirm that sex offense recidivism among youth is exceptionally low—between 3–5 percent.
  2. Youths’ already low recidivism rates drop off dramatically after a very short period of time. When rare sexual recidivism does occur among young offenders, it is nearly always within the first few years following the original offense.
  3. The severity of a youth’s offense is not predictive of re-offense. Laws that create lengthier terms of registration or no ability to remove youth from registries based on type of offense are inconsistent with research.
  4. Youth who commit sex offenses are similar to youth who engage in non-sexual delinquent behavior. Multiple studies confirm that children who commit sexual offenses are motivated by impulsivity and sexual curiosity, not predatory, paraphilic, or psychopathic characteristics. With maturation, a better understanding of sexuality, and decreased impulsivity, these behaviors stop.
  5. Registering youth who have committed sex offenses does not reduce their already low recidivism rates. A 2008 study found no measurable difference in recidivism rates for registered and unregistered children who committed sexual offenses. In fact, recidivism rates among youth who have committed a sexual offense are lower in states that do not register youth.

The sources and research for the above points are:

  • Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 198 (2010), available at http://commissiononsexoffenderrecidivi sm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Caldwell-Michael-2010-Study-Characteristics-and-recidivism-base-rates-in-juvenile-sex-offender-recidivism.pdf; Michael F. Caldwell, Sexual Offense Adjudication and Recidivism Among Juvenile Offenders, 19 Sexual Abuse: J. Res. & Treatment, 107 (2007); Michael F. Caldwell et al., An Examination of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act as Applied to Juveniles: Evaluating the Ability to Predict Sexual Recidivism, 14 Psychol., Pub. Pol’y, & L. 89 (2008); E.M. Driessen, Characteristics of Youth Referred for Sexual Offenses, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2002); Michael P. Hagan et al., Eight-Year Comparative Analysis of Adolescent Rapists, Adolescent Child Molesters, Other Adolescent Delinquents, and the General Population, 45 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 314 (2001); Franklin E. Zimring et al., Investigating the Continuity of Sex offending: Evidence from the Second Philadelphia Birth Cohort, 26 Justice Q. 58 (2009); Franklin E. Zimring et al., Sexual Delinquency in Racine: Does Early Sex Offending Predict Later Sex Offending in Youth and Young Adulthood?, 6 Criminology & Pub. Pol’y 507 (2007).
  • Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 205.
  • Ashley Batastini et al., Federal Standards for Community Registration of Juvenile Sex Offenders, 17 Psychol. Pub. Pol’y & L. 451, 457-58 (2011); Franklin E. Zimring et al., Sexual Delinquency in Racine: Does Early Sex Offending Predict Later Sex Offending in Youth and Young Adulthood?, 6 Criminology & Pub. Pol’y 507 (2007).
  • Michael F. Caldwell, What We Do Not Know About Juvenile Sexual Re-Offense Risk, 7 Child Maltreatment 291 (2002); Elizabeth Letourneau & Michael Miner, Juvenile Sex Offenders: A Case Against the Legal and Clinical Status Quo, 17 Sexual Abuse: J. Res. & Treatment 293, 331 (2005); Judith Becker & Scotia Hicks, Juvenile Sexual Offenders: Characteristics, Interventions, & Policy Issues, 989 Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 397, 399-400, 406 (2003); Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 197-98 (2010).
  • Elizabeth Letourneau & Kevin Armstrong, Recidivism Rates for Registered and Nonregistered Juvenile Sexual Offenders, 20 Sexual Abuse: J. of Res. and Treatment 393 (2008). 

Riya Saha Shah is the managing director at Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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