Low Risk Was Never Meant to Mean No Risk

USA FAIR, a national nonprofit group formed by and for family members of registered sex offenders, responds to the latest version of sex offender legislation in response to the John Burbine case.

By now, all of Massachusetts and much of the country has heard about the gruesome allegations against John Burbine; a man accused of videotaping himself sexually abusing 13 young children. He’s also a Level 1 registered sex offender, which has understandably led lawmakers to respond with proposed legislation aimed at preventing such a crime from happening again. Unfortunately, as is often the case following high-profile child sex crimes, well-intentioned legislators respond with broad-brush proposals and political placebos that may make constituents feel good, but don’t actually do anything to protect the public.


Because Burbine was classified as a low risk Level 1 offender, the knee jerk emotional response has been that there must therefore be something wrong with the classification system, causing some Massachusetts legislators to propose that any offender who committed a crime against a child must no longer be classified as low risk. This flies in the face of volumes of studies that show conclusively that offenders who commit the same crime do not pose the same risk of reoffending. For example, offenders whose crime involved incest with a minor child have the lowest recidivism rate of any group of sex offenders.  Additionally, approximately one-third of all sex crimes committed against children are committed by other minors and history has shown that treatment is particularly effective with this group in producing low re-offense rates.


The fact that a Level 1 offender committed a heinous act does not mean the system is not working.  Level 1 means low risk - not no risk.  Level 1 means that these offenders pose a relative lower risk of reoffending than Level 2 moderate-risk offenders or Level 3 highest-risk offenders.  However, relative risk does not predict with certainty what an individual offender will do. Just as studies have shown that most high-risk offenders will never commit another sex crime, some low risk offenders will.


From the beginning of the sex offender registry risk classifications were designed to be a tool to assess the potential risk of a particular offender.  They were based on an evaluation of the offender that looked at many characteristics, including the offender, the victim and the circumstances surrounding the offense and assigned a risk classification based on actuarial data of similar offenders.  This system, while imperfect, has been shown to demonstrate better predictive results than other methods, including individual psychological evaluations.


If we are going to switch to a system that bases risk level designations solely on the crime committed than we will give up on even the pretense that levels are a risk assessment tool. A law that would prohibit offenders whose crimes were committed against children from being designated as Level 1 registrants will be that start of a slippery slope to making the risk tiers utterly meaningless – except perhaps as a new means to register societal disapproval of a particular act.



The U.S. Department of Justice along with numerous other criminal justice agencies and academic institutions have found that sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates of any offender group in the criminal justice system.  However, some subsets of offenders do indeed have higher rates of recidivism.  Public policy initiatives should be directed at making risk assessments better able to identify those few offenders most likely to reoffend - as opposed to throwing in the towel and taking a one-size-fits-all approach.



Shana Rowan is the Executive Director of USA Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry, a nonprofit organization formed by loved ones of people required to register. All statistics may be verified at www.usafair.org/studies

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Valerie Parkhurst March 30, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Make no mistake Shana Rowan is attempting to make sex with children mainstream and with out repercussions. She brands herself as Executive director of many organizations but what she really is? Is a buzzard who lands on road kill on the internet to minimize and diminish the anguish that victims of these crimes endure. She has an agenda and following her tracks is easy even if she disguises it under various organizational names. The California chapter of the"" Reform Sex Offender Laws organization"""RSOL will have its first Orange County meeting later this month in Buena Park. The national organization ""attributes much of its growth"" to the late Tom Reeves, a founding member of the ""North American Man/Boy Love Association"" NAMBLA. Reeves, who also went by "Alex Marbury", died of heart failure on Feb. 19. He was 72 years old. Shana Writes: I have agreed to be the Facebook page admin and "manager" for the"" NY chapter of RSOL!""" I am very excited and have some ideas, although I am sure that there is a lot I haven't thought of, either. I just created it a little while ago, and plan to really get going on it tomorrow (right now it's just the logo and basic information). I hear that duck quacking all the way down here in Florida Shana????
Valerie Parkhurst March 30, 2013 at 12:04 PM
By the way Level 1's and Level 2 's are reoffending at horrendous rates, even outpacing Level threes. Designated Tiers or Levels dont take into account escalating deviant behavor...and they all escalate!!!!
Valerie Parkhurst March 30, 2013 at 12:15 PM
here are the real stats for recidivism unlike Shana's that are based on outdated and slim protocol put out by the DOJ "fast and furious" DOJ stats are formulated to condition the public based on what the system wants to spend on the problem, no more no less. Oh and her researchers have multitudes of civil suits/professional complaints against them due to the fact they are NOW state paid voodoo doctors who cant get a job in the private sector and go into government grant work , c'mon Shana do ya really expect the public to take to the bank studies by people who get paid "per-head" to watch these freaks heads spin??
Valerie Parkhurst March 30, 2013 at 12:17 PM
The REAL RECIDIVISM STUDIES 1) One approach is to extrapolate a true crime rate from victimization surveys and compare that with reported crime, typically finding that roughly 90% of sex crimes go unreported. Some put the estimate even higher.. 2)One of the main problems with recidivism studies is that all studies measure it differently and define it differently," 3)One long-term study of sex offenders from Canada measured recidivism seven ways. The highest rate, 88.3%, included prior, undetected sexual offenses confessed by first-time convicts. 4)But Ohio Northern University criminologist Keith Durkin points to anonymous surveys in which sex offenders admit to as many undetected offenses as the number for which they have been caught. He views 50% as a "conservative" estimate for recidivism. 5)Young, violent offenders who suffer from mental illness, use alcohol or drugs and target very young victims "outside their family" pose the biggest risk. kinda blows that 1994 RSOL-Nambla 3- 5% BS right out the window Uh?


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