Many people believe that, in general, people are typically incapable of changing. The widely held assumption is that once a person commits a crime, they will repeat that mistake endlessly, regardless of consequences.
The reality is that conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong. Take for example people who are convicted of possessing child pornography without ever having any improper sexual contact with a minor. Conventional wisdom says these people should be locked up for years, and once released treated as pariahs because, after all, they will repeat their mistake over and over. This is simply incorrect, as data from the United States Sentencing Commission shows.
Back in December 2012, the Commission issued a report to Congress titled "Federal Child Pornography Offenses." One aspect of the report dealt with recidivism by child pornography offenders.
According to conventional wisdom, the rate of recidivism (relapsing into criminal behavior) should be very high among this particular group.
In fact, in its report, the Commission states, "The conventional assumption is that the rate of recidivism (in particular, sexual recidivism) by federal child pornography offenders is high." So even among experts, judges and policymakers, the best guess is that recidivism will be high.
When the Commission examined recidivism closely, it divided the relapses into two categories: sexual recidivism (those who were arrested for or convicted of a sex-related offense) and general recidivism (those arrested for parole violations such as failure to report their address to authorities, or being arrested for a non-sex-related offense, etc.).
According to the Commission, a full 70 percent of those convicted on federal child porn offenses did not commit any new crimes of any sort, whether sex-related or not. They also had no parole violations that resulted in being taken into custody.
Of the remaining 30 percent, almost all were taken into custody for non-sex-related offenses (failure to report as an offender, being picked up on a non-sex-related charge, etc.).
Only 7.4 percent of all the child pornography offenders fell into the sexual recidivism category and just 2.3 percent of offenders were arrested again on child porn charges.
As we can see, conventional wisdom is wrong about these offenders. Yet our sentencing guidelines and our post-release treatment of offenders both function as if all offenders will re-offend, when the reality is that only a small percentage of them ever do so.
Those facing these charges know that the deck is stacked against them if they're convicted, which makes their choice of legal counsel a critical one.
Source: United States Sentencing Commission, "Report to the Congress: Federal Child Pornography Offenses," accessed Sept. 16, 2014