Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guest Blogger -- Jill Levenson on "Fugitive Sexual Offenders"

Good Morning, Folks:

Here's a guest blog by former and incoming ATSA Board Member Jill Levenson of Florida.

regarding http://www.scrippsnews.com/projects/fugitive-sex-offenders ...

Dr. Jill Levenson, Dr. Andrew Harris, Dr. Alissa Ackerman, and Dr. Kristen Zgoba are currently embarking on a series of research projects exploring the make-up and utility of U.S. registries as well as the intended goals and outcomes of the Adam Walsh Act. In a recent article submitted for publication to a reputable social science journal, we analyzed data on 445,127 registered sex offenders obtained directly from the public registries of 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and Guam. In contrast with the homogenized perception about registered sex offenders that permeates much public discourse, the analysis illuminated the wide diversity of registrants across a range of demographic, offense-related, registry status, and risk-oriented variables.

Specifically, we attempted to clarify the repeatedly cited statistic that 100,000 sex offenders are "missing." Curiously, we were able to identify only 17,688 RSOs who were designated by states to be transient, homeless, absconded, non-compliant, or whose address or whereabouts are otherwise unknown. Nationwide, a total of 5,349 offenders were officially listed as absconded; 1,264 were listed as missing/unable to be located and 4,152 were listed as having failed to comply with registration requirements. We had no way of specifically confirming the number of fugitive sex offenders, since states had a wide variety of methods for classifying absconders, registration violators, and others whose locations are uncertain. Despite the NCMEC report that "at least 100,000 sex offenders are noncompliant and no one knows where they are" (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2007), we have been unable to ascertain NCMEC's formula for their calculation of missing sex offenders. Using the data downloaded directly from public registries, and utilizing the inclusive figure of 17,688 offenders described above (approximately 4% of our total sample), we found no evidence to support the notion that one-sixth (or about 17%) of the nation's sex offenders are missing or unaccounted for.

It is unlikely that all sex offenders who fail to comply with registration are willful violators, and despite the claims of the U.S. Marshall's Service most noncompliant offenders do not appear to have absconded. Many "missing" sex offenders are not truly missing; they may appear to be missing due to inadequate or incomplete address information, data entry errors, lag times in updating registry information, unauthorized travel, or homelessness. Some might be confused by complex registration laws, carelessly neglecting to fulfill registration requirements but continuing to report to parole or probation agents and remaining in their known locations despite their lapsed registration.

Through our data analysis, we were also able to extrapolate and draw some general inferences about the relative risk of the U.S. RSO population. Through our data collection process, we know that approximately 33% of the RSOs reported by NCMEC are not listed on public registries. Thus, we presume that about one-third of the nation's sex offenders have been assessed by their state's sex offender management procedure to pose low risk for future offending, and therefore they are not subjected to community notification. Even among those found on public registries (ostensibly higher risk offenders from some states and all offenders from other states), a distribution of risk exists, with a minority designated in most states as high risk, predator, or sexually violent.

Another notable finding is the considerable number of RSOs who are not residing in the community. All told, approximately 12% (N=52,248) of RSOs appear to not be living in the community, with a total of 47,978 people incarcerated or civilly committed, 1,028 listed as deceased, and 3,251 listed as deported.

Interestingly, in several published studies, failure to register as a sex offender was not associated with an increased likelihood of sexual reoffending.

Public internet registries were designed to alert citizens to the presence of sex offenders living nearby so that action can be taken to potentially prevent victimization. It is unclear why deported or deceased offenders remain on public registries, as the public safety value of this information seems dubious. As well, the funding allocated for tracking the nation's sex offenders is based on the registry count reported by NCMEC -- an inflated figure that includes individuals for whom no tracking is needed because they are institutionalized, dead, or deported. In one particularly illuminating example, out of over 54,000 sex offenders registered in Florida, more than half are not actually living in Florida communities. About 28% are institutionalized and about one-quarter are living in other states. This information is not readily apparent in the data reported by NCMEC; rather, it was evident only after downloading a publicly available datafile from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website and speaking with the state's registry data manager to resolve discrepancies. In other words, many publicly identified RSOs may not be living amongst us.

As for the Adam Walsh Act, which sought to introduce greater uniformity of sex offender registration and notification systems, we concur that standardized definitions and measures across states would help close gaps that currently exist and provide for needed consistency in policies. However, the rules by which AWA seeks to impose jurisdictional uniformity – rules that rely on a common offense-based classification scheme and ignore other germane risk factors – are far more likely to obscure important differences among registered offenders than to shed more light on them. Offense-based designations cover a wide and diverse spectrum of behavior patterns, and accordingly obscure important distinctions impacting a given offender’s public safety risk. Researchers from NY have already found that the Adam Walsh tiers did a poor job of predicting reoffending. Many states have adopted more refined approaches (e.g. utilizing empirically derived risk assessment methods) to distinguish the most dangerous offenders and to assist in the efficient allocation of resources concordant with an offender's threat to the community. The tier system under the Adam Walsh Act, however, will potentially render certain aspects of those systems obsolete, mandating increasingly more inclusive public internet disclosure that ultimately might prove to be less informative for concerned citizens. This problem is one of the controversies impacting nationwide compliance with federal law.

Prevention of repeat sexual violence is a complex endeavor not easily solved with statutory solutions. The current emphasis on publicly identifying and tracking known offenders may do a disservice to the public, since over 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by someone well known to them with no previous sex crime record, not a stranger found on a registry. Recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed; the U.S. Dept of Justice reported a 5.3% sexual recidivism rate over 3 years and Canadian researchers report about 14% over 4-6 years. Even over longer follow-up periods of 15-20 years, research indicates that about three-quarters of sex offenders are NOT re-arrested for a subsequent sex crime (in stark contrast to this statement: "These guys are dangerous," Anderson said. "They have a sexual appetite that can only be satisfied by going after who they deem to be sexually arousing — such as kids, minors, toddlers, infants — and doing it by rape. When they want sex, they want it then.").
Certainly, a subgroup of sexual offenders IS dangerous and likely to reoffend. But the quickly growing population of registered sex offenders (now nearing one million) obscures our ability to identify the most high risk individuals, and spreads resources quite thin. A more targeted approach using risk assessment methods would help to allocate resources more efficiently to provide closer monitoring of those more likely to pose a threat to public safety.

Jill Levenson, Ph.D.


  1. As usual Dr. Levinson got it right. No one cares to hear the actual truth on anything concerning sex offenders.

    The AWA is a dismal failure there are 3 states and one indian tribe in compliance and 2-3 more that have plans to comply the rest of the states cannot afford another"unfunded mandate".

    Over 95% of sex crimes are comitted by people not on any registry but by ppl known to the victim.,

    I challenge ANYONE to produce a single story that claims the registry has prevented a crime?

    If our goal is to reduce the number of ppl affected by sex crimes? We need to scrap this "political" law and sit down and come up with something that makes sense?


    1. Challenge accepted..Recent study on the effectiveness of the registry indicates those who accessed the registry put into place an average of two additional security measures to (1) re-enforce their homes and (2) do better background checks for those in contact with their children. The problem seems NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE access the registry. The REGISTRY is a tool for information..it doesnt grow legs and wrap the public in a blanket of safety. The safety comes from the knowledge of who has been convicted of a sexually based crime. Knowledge is priceless.Only a sex offender or family member of one would make a lame statement as yours.

  2. There are many non-compliant RSOs that are sitting in jails. Look at the registry; In Illinois there are many listed as non-compliant and yet it shows they are in jail. What a joke the registry has become. Do states get more money when they list a RSO as non-compliant? To me non-compliant means they don't know where they are. Can they not see that they are in jail?

  3. I was at the workshop in Phoenix with Linda Baldwin, head of the SMART office. I thought my head would explode.

    The rationale for the SORMA provisions have little or no bearings of reality in the real world of child safety. Asked several times about the purpose of the law, she repeated a mantra of "It's to ensure uniformity of the states and to track offenders who travel from state to state or overseas."

    What about the tiering systems of states like NJ which have been useful for us for over 12 years?

    I have a real problem with "solutions" that will likely exacerbate the problem (such as registered offenders going underground, plea bargains that drop below the threshhold of Internet notification, false perception of security in the community, recantations by kids who fear lengthy sentences for relatives, juveniles exposed to public identification on social networking sites, etc.)

    I'm frustrated with trying to get my state officials to invite those of us who work with this population to give them information about what might actually work and what will be counterproductive.

    What can we do??????

  4. You can realize all of this is about money. Many people associated with companies who make products or supply services and related fields stand to make a killing as numbers of people who can be labeled SEX OFFENDERS grow.
    The more laws, the more regulations the more money to be made.
    First on the agenda would be to track down all the Politicians and those who are making money from these laws...follow the money and you will see why these laws will multiply greatly.

    Anyone who thinks these laws will come down is fooling themselves...
    The rich get richer.. the poor serve the rich.
    cfcamerica dot org

  5. One last thing.
    You may, from my previous post think me to be a fool.. or brash..
    But I tell you this..When the Supreme Court of the United States blatantly defies the Constitution, When Governors of many states violate their oath of office by enforcing Retroactive Sex Offender Laws.. When fathers cannot get a job or a place to live for themselves and their children due to the stigma of the registry.. and the citizens support it.. When countless children, innocent children of ex offenders are driven into depression and or suicide due to their daddy being on the registry so they are now homeless... hungry and branded lepers...and the madness grows..
    Only after you have heard the cries of the children and the people in their state of hopelessness...only then do you understand that there are 700 THOUSAND PEOPLE BRANDED LEPERS...in this country...All so some wealthy group are eager to see their stocks grow...
    And the people stand silent..
    Yes, I am a bit insane...
    These laws make people insane.
    Citizens for Change, America... a voice in the darkness for years.. http://www.cfcamerica.org

    No amount of speaking out will stop this travesty of justice... there is way too much money to be made off of sex offenders...

    The Jewish people know about being Raped by Government... Now some Americans know as well.

  6. The 100,000 missing sex offender myth originated from a flawed report from "Parents for Megan's Law."

  7. I find it off Professor Levenson can seemingly come up with a wealth of information even if somewhat misconstrued but the taxpayers cant seem to get a completed study on what was forecast to be completed by now.. Can someone ask the good professor what she spent the taxpayers money on and the documentation associated with Government grants according to the rules and protocols of accepting those grants??

  8. Jill Levenson as the "go to Diva" on all things sex offender can analyse data till the cows come home. Obviously she doesnt get it right on any aspect of the subject. "Liars can figure, Figures Dont Lie". Paying her to show ink spots to sex offenders to determine what makes them tick, is pure theft at this juncture. Under her tenure the sex offender issue has deteriorated to crisis numbers in terms of victim counts. I wouldnt pay Jill Levenson to determine when my dog needed walking, much less submit policy recommendations on sex offenders.

    1. Looked in the mirror lateley?
      You must be a member of the multi million dollar Sex Offender Industry We hear so much about. And how much have you made selling soap etc. on your website.
      Have a Great Day

  9. January 10,2014
    TO: Dr. Jill Levenson, Dr. Andrew Harris, Dr.Alissia Akerman, and to Dr. Kristen Zgoba
    From; Neil B Fisher Research Group
    RE; The 100,000 Sex Offenders

    I myself have contacted the majority of Sex Offender internet websites, meganLaws websites ,Sex Offender Management Boards websites and many others with the simple intent to get these websites to place upon their websites that the 100,000 missing, lost, unaccounted for and out of compliance sex offenders that is supposed to be running a muck throughout the United States kidnapping ,molesting, raping and killing our children is false , propaganda and just a myth. Being This is the single most damaging false statment ever made regarding sex offenders as per my many years of research in this field (It was even said to Congress, to all of our State lawmakers the general public and was even stated on a nationwide daytime talk show (the Big O) that causes and brings fear, persons made afraid ,anger, hate and hate crimes, persons being killed and murdered ,persons taking their own lives,grief, sorrow pain and suffering to the offenders and their children as to stop this false information that has been snowballing for many years now.
    But for whatever reason they just will not put this so much needed information on their websites. And being the true and honest and real facts came out of members of your group perhaps you could talk with these government websites and to our lawmakers and to Congress stating that the information being spread is in fact false.

    Thank You So Kindly
    Please have a great and wonderful Day
    Neil B Fisher
    The Neil B Fisher Research Group