Juvenile Sex and Non-Sex Offenders: A Comparison of Recidivism and Risk

By Calleja, Nancy G. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Sex and Non-Sex Offenders: A Comparison of Recidivism and Risk


Calleja, Nancy G., Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


Forty male juvenile sex offenders were compared with 133 male juvenile nonsex offenders 2 years postrelease from residential treatment to assess recidivism and factors related to recidivism. Juvenile sex offenders had significantly lower recidivism rates than juvenile non-sex offenders.

Keywords: juvenile sex offender, risk, recidivism

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Over the past 2 decades, several federal and state policies have been enacted specifically to address the sex offender population. These have included new laws for registration, notification, and supervision that require individuals convicted of a sex offense to notify officials of their physical address and any changes in address, be prohibited from living and/or working in certain areas (e.g., school), and make their names and addresses available to the public. Although each piece of legislation was conceived in response to crimes by adult sex offenders, the laws have targeted both adults and youth. As a result, adolescents who have committed sex offenses now face long-term consequences for their crimes in comparison with their non-sex-offending peers. This is in significant contrast to both the rehabilitation philosophy upon which the juvenile justice system was established and the stark differences that are now known to exist between adult and juvenile offenders. However, it is also contrary to a growing body of empirical knowledge that juveniles who have sexually offended are at a lower risk of reoffending than their non-sex-offending peers. In fact, recidivism rates for juvenile non-sex offenders following residential treatment have ranged from 40.16% (Taylor, Kemper, Loney, & Kistner, 2009) to 65.2% (Benda, Corwyn, & Toombs, 2001) to 85% (Trulson, Marquart, Mullings, & Caeti, 2005), whereas recidivism rates for juvenile sex offenders have ranged from 1.4% to 40% (Carpentier & Proulx, 2011; see also Fortune & Lambie, 2006). Juvenile offenders are typically defined as adolescents who commit a crime at 17 years of age or younger or youthful offenders who have been processed through the juvenile justice system rather than the adult system. However, because state laws vary, the age range of juvenile offenders varies.

Although a small body of research investigating recidivism of juveniles who engage in non-sex offenses versus sex offenses has begun to develop, much more knowledge is needed in this area. Such knowledge may be particularly useful to effectively inform legislative activities. However, counselors need to better understand what constitutes ongoing risk for juvenile sex offenders, which is a critical issue because treatment options and short- and long-term consequences are often based on perceived risk--a perception that may not be wholly accurate. This study was designed to contribute to the emerging body of research related to comparative recidivism between subtypes of adolescent offenders (general offenders, substance-using offenders, sex offenders) and to investigate four commonly perceived risk factors (discussed later) related to adolescents who have sexually offended. Consistent with past research on recidivism, recidivism was evaluated within 1 year postrelease from residential treatment.

Review of the Literature

The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Registration Act (Jacob Wetterling Act), which was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, initially established a national registry for individuals who committed sexual or violent offenses against children. Most recently, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA; Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006) substantially updated and expanded previous notification and registration requirements. SORNA is by far the most comprehensive sex offender legislation to date, and it also differs most significantly from its predecessors in its inclusion of adolescent offenders. …

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