There is a public misconception that most sex offenders are likely to re-offend. However, while there certainly are habitual offenders and sexual predators, there are also a great many people on the Oklahoma sex offender registry that will never commit another sex crime again. A serial rapist or child predator is a much greater risk to the general public than a person convicted of statutory rape--particularly if that person was young when convicted of second degree rape for a relationship with someone only a few years younger.
In order to help the general public understand how much of a threat a released sex offender may be, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 required that each jurisdiction assign a "risk level" to every convicted sex offender.
While each individual state is allowed to create its own sex offender risk level assessment tool, it must conform at minimum to the standards laid out in the Adam Walsh Act. The Act requires a three-tier system, with Level 3 offenders considered the greatest risk of re-offense and the greatest threat to public safety. Under the Act, each state's risk level assessment protocol meet the following criteria:
- Tier I - This level is reserved for the least serious offenders, and it serves as a "catch-all" for sex crimes that do not meet the standards for Tier II and Tier III crimes. A person determined to be a Tier I sex offender must register as a sex offender for a period of 15 years.
- Tier II - Persons assessed as Tier II sex offenders are those whose crimes are considered more serious than Tier I, but not as heinous as Tier III. These offenders have an increased chance of recidivism over Tier I offenders, but are not as likely to re-offend as Tier III offenders. The Adam Walsh Act lists examples of Tier II offenders as those involved in prostitution of minors or child pornography. A person assessed as a Tier II sex offender must register for a term of 25 years.
- Tier III - Those designated as Tier III offenders are considered to have a considerable likelihood of re-offending. Tier III offenders are considered to be the greatest risk to public safety, and they must register as sex offenders for life. The Act includes as examples of Tier III offenders those who have committed forcible rape, those who render a person unconscious as a means of committing rape, and sex crimes against children under 12.
Many states use an assessment tool to look at multiple aspects of the crime of which a person was convicted in order to determine his or her risk level. These tools function similarly to an actuarial table, in which certain questions about the person convicted and the nature of his or her offense are tabulated to show a statistical likelihood of re-offense. While risk assessment instruments such as Static-99 are by no means foolproof, they do at least take into account that a drunk college student who rapes an intoxicated co-ed may not have the same criminal tendencies as Jesse Timmendequas, the repeat sex offender found guilty of the rape and murder of his 7-year-old neighbor, Megan Kanka, leading to Megan's Law.
Oklahoma's sex offender risk assessment tool, however, is strictly offense-based. This offense-based assessment unfairly classifies many of those convicted of sex crimes in Oklahoma as Level 3 offenders.
Level 3 sex crimes include all acts of rape, whether first degree rape or second degree rape. This means a 19-year-old who has seemingly consensual sex with his or her 15-year-old girlfriend or boyfriend is classified as the same risk as a violent rapist or habitual sex offender. The Department of Corrections mail clerk found guilty of performing oral sex on an adult inmate is considered as high a risk as the child rapist.
Because of repeat offenders Timmendequas and Jerry Sandusky, people assume that the recidivism rate among sex offenders is high. However, a 2011 Huffington Post article indicates that this is not the case. According to the article, sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate among all crimes:
"The percentages rearrested (but not necessarily guilty) for the "same category of offense" for which they were most recently in prison for were:13.4% of released robbers
22.0% of released assaulters
23.4% of released burglars
33.9% of released larcenists
19.0% of released defrauders
41.2% of released drug offenders
2.5% of released rapists
Contrary to popular belief, as a group, sex offenders have the lowest rate of recidivism of all the crime categories. These statistics completely fly in the face of conventional wisdom about sex offenders being the most likely group of criminals to re-offend for their initial crime, but these are the facts. It could be argued that sex offender recidivism isn't detected and that is why this number is so low, but that could also be said of other crime categories, too."
Should sex offender registration be required? Perhaps. Maybe even probably. However, a strictly offense-based risk assessment seems unlikely to be any form of protection for a frightened public.