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A sex offender (short for sexual offender) is a person who has been criminally charged and convicted of, or has pled "guilty" or Nolo contendere to, a sex crime. Crimes requiring mandatory sex offender registration may include child sexual abuse, downloading child pornography, rape, and statutory rape. The term sex offender is a broad term, with sexual predator often being used to describe a more severe physical or repeat sexual offense. In the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries a convicted sex offender is often required to register with the respective jurisdiction's sex offender registry. These registry databases are frequently accesible to the public through the internet. Sexual offenders are also sometimes classified into levels. The highest level offenders generally must register as a sex offender for their entire lives, whereas low level offenders may only need to register for a limited time. As a label of identity it is used in criminal psychology.
In the United States, the term "sex offender" is defined on a state-by-state basis. Megan's Law is the law designed to punish sex offenders and reduce their ability to re-offend. The law is enacted and enforced on a state-by-state basis. Most U.S. states also place restrictions on where convicted sex offenders can live after their release, prohibiting residency within a designated distance of schools and daycare centers (usually 1,000 - 2,000 feet).
Figures from a 1994 DOJ study on recidivism indicated that compared to non-sex offender felons, a sex offender was 4 times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime.
In 2007, the State Bureau of Investigation in North Carolina made significant changes to its sex offender registration system, including new search criteria that include an "offender status" search, enabling an explicit search for convicted sex offense recidivists in the sex offender database. Manual searches by county using the new criteria yield some of the lowest recidivist percentages ever disseminated by any law enforcement establishment. In the entire State of North Carolina, there are only 71 recidivists shown on the registry, if incarcerated offenders are included. Per-county results for "Registered" status offenders compared against "Recidivist" status offenders on the North Carolina registry yield actual convicted recidivist percentages ranging from zero to fractions of one percent.
According to the Office of Justice Programs of the United States Department of Justice:
RECIDIVISM IN GENERAL:
For clarification: the 272,111 persons mentioned include all criminals released—not just sex offenders.
* Of the 272,111 persons released from prisons in 15 States in 1994, an estimated 67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.9% were reconvicted, and 25.4% resentenced to prison for a new crime.
* The 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 accounted for nearly 4,877,000 arrest charges over their recorded careers.
* Within 3 years of release, 2.5% of released rapists were rearrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for a new homicide.
* Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense –– 43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of non-sex offenders.
* Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime after their discharge from prison –– 5.3 percent of sex offenders versus 1.3 percent of non-sex offenders.
* On a given day in 1994 there were approximately 234,000 offenders convicted of rape or sexual assault under the care, custody, or control of corrections agencies; nearly 60% of these sex offenders are under conditional supervision in the community.
* The median age of the victims of imprisoned sexual assaulters was less than 13 years old; the median age of rape victims was about 22 years.
* An estimated 24% of those serving time for rape and 19% of those serving time for sexual assault had been on probation or parole at the time of the offense for which they were in State prison in 1991.
* Of the 9,691 male sex offenders released from prisons in 15 States in 1994, 5.3% were rearrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of release.
* Of released sex offenders who allegedly committed another sex crime, 40% perpetrated the new offense within a year or less from their prison discharge.
* Approximately 4,300 child molesters were released from prisons in 15 States in 1994. An estimated 3.3% of these 4,300 were rearrested for another sex crime against a child within 3 years of release from prison.
* Among child molesters released from prison in 1994, 60% had been in prison for molesting a child 13 years old or younger.
* Offenders who had victimized a child were on average 5 years older than the violent offenders who had committed their crimes against adults. Nearly 25% of child victimizers were age 40 or older, but about 10% of the inmates with adult victims fell in that age range.
* In 2006 the first actual under aged child molester was arrested for indecent exposure in a local park at an elementary school in Bay City, Michigan. Brandon Leroy Michalsky age 16 at the time was sentenced to 5 years in a maximum security prison but was later released on early chance of parole. He served 1 year in Bay County juvenile home awaiting his maximum sentence to Jacksonville Prison. There was no sincere evidence that he actually committed such a crime and all charges were dropped some 2 years later.
A sex offender registry is a system in place in a number of jurisdictions designed to allow government authorities to keep track of the residence and activities of felony sex offenders, including those who have completed their criminal sentences. In some jurisdictions (especially in the United States), information in the registry is made available to the general public via a website or other means. In many jurisdictions registered sex offenders are subject to additional restrictions, including housing. Those on parole or probation may be subject to restrictions that don't apply to other parolees or probationers. Sometimes these include (or have been proposed to include) restrictions on being in the presence of minors, living in proximity to a school or day care center, or owning toys or other items of interest to minors.
Behavior modification programs have been shown to reduce recidivism in sex offenders. Often such programs use principles of applied behavior analysis. Two such approaches from this line of research have promise. The first uses operant conditioning approaches which use reward and punishment to train new behavior such as problem solving and the second uses respondent conditioning procedures such as aversion therapy. Many of the behavior analysis programs use covert sensitization and/or odor aversion, which are both forms of aversion therapy and have had ethical challenges to them. Such programs are effective in lowering recidivism by 15-18 percent. The use of aversion procedures remains a controversy and is often discussed as an ethical issue related to the practice of behavior analysis
Chemical castration is used in some countries and states to treat sex offenders, it is reversible once medication is stopped unlike physical castration.
Physical castration appears to be highly effective as, historically, it results in a 20-year re-offense rate of less than 2.3% vs. 80% in the untreated control group, according to a large 1963 study involving a total of 1036 sex offenders by the German researcher A. Langelüddeke, among others, much lower than what was otherwise expected compared to overall sex offender recidivism rates. Although considered to be a cruel and unusual punishment by many, physical castration does not otherwise effect the lifespan of men compared to uncastrated men.
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