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 How the risk principle reduces recidivism: The impact of legislative revisions on the release decision process and the recidivism risk of sexual offenders

Martin Rettenberger & Reinhard Eher


In the last decades in many European countries legislative and juridical efforts were implemented in order to extend the sanctions, control, treatment, and supervision of convicted sexual offenders. At the same time, the development of crime and recidivism rates indicated a decrease of sexual and violent offenses in many countries of the West. The aim of the present study was to examine a possible relationship between sexual offender legislation revisions and the reduction of reoffense rates during the last 20 years in Austria. In 2008, the government in Austria passed a revision of the criminal law strengthening the options for sexual offender treatment and management in combination with conditional release. This study presents date of N = 2714 sexual offenders released between 2002 and 2016 from the Austrian Prison System. Hand in hand with the increase of the number of conditional releases relapse rates for sexual and violent offenses dropped systematically. Further, within the high risk groups the effect was most prominent. The present results provide indicators on how legislative revisions of laws can positively affect the release decision process and recidivism risk of sexual offenders. Therefore, the present findings can be discussed and interpreted against the background of a penal reciprocity effect.


Prof. Dr. Martin Rettenberger is the Director of the Centre for Criminology (Kriminologische Zentralstelle – KrimZ) in Wiesbaden, Germany, and is Professor at the Department of Psychology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Germany. Since 2016, he is the Secretary General of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders (IATSO) and editor-in-chief of the IATSO open access e-journal “Sexual Offending: Theories, Research, and Prevention” (SOTRAP).


Reinhard Eher was born in 1963 in Vienna, Austria. He is psychiatrist and clinical psychotherapist. He is a co-founder of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders (IATSO). He was its secretary general from 1998 to 2016 and is now president elect. Since 2001 he is the head of the Federal Evaluation Centre for Violent and Sexual Offenders (FECVSO) in the Austrian Ministry of Justice in Vienna, Austria.He has written numerous original research papers and given numerous presentations on national and international conferences, mainly about sexual abusive behaviour and risk assessment in sexual offenders. He is professor for forensic psychotherapy at the Medical University in Ulm, Germany.