Sex Offender Registries—Giving Citizens What they Want?

This question will be used as a discussion point for a “Crime and the Media” class at an eastern university. Your opinions are welcomed.

Gentlereaders: The study below suggests that sex offender registries are not associated with reduced recidivism (re-arrests or re-convictions). This is not the first study questioning the validity of sex offender registries.

But ask the average citizens as to whether or not they want access to a sex offender registry and the answer will be an inevitable “heck yes.” The problem is that we know that registries were unlikely to have an impact on recidivism when we started them.

So where does that leave the criminological and criminal justice community? Is it good public policy to spend millions of dollars on strategies that are unlikely to have an impact on crime rates or totals just because citizens want them?

Better question—do we employ other strategies that are dubious as to crime control but give the public what it wants?

The bottom line is meeting the citizen’s sense of justice. From the beginning of human history, we debated what it takes to have citizens become a daily part of creating a better society. We within the criminal justice system understand that it’s citizens and communities and not government that mostly control the day-to-day activities of crime and criminals.

Citizens and communities decide drug policy. Citizens and communities decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. Whether a person does drugs or steals of hurts another or engages in an act of domestic or sexual violence is a matter of personal choice and whether the larger community will “tolerate” his acts.

Will a man continue to slap his wife if neighbors call the police with every incident and if friends and family and neighbors aggressively intervene to protect the victim? The ultimate question is what it takes to have society control society.

We seem to be moving towards decriminalizing marijuana or legalizing its medical use. This movement is not coming from the justice system because we understand that there are millions of people that should not touch anything stronger than aspirin; they do violent and stupid things under the influence. The effort to decriminalize or legalize is coming from citizens and advocates and we hope they know what they are doing.

So we within the system recognize that its citizens and communities that really control crime and define for others what’s right and what’s wrong. To get them to make that daily investment, citizens need to have a common sense of “justice” upheld.

To uphold that sense of justice, the system provides juries, common law, incarceration, community accountability of agencies and access to information such as sex offender registries.

While we understand that the proposition is not nearly as straight-forward as we make it, but it’s true never-the-less.

Violate a community’s or country’s sense of justice and watch the consequences. It’s all part of the unspoken balance we have with authorities as to ruling or being ruled.

Study-Sex Offender Registries

The authors of this study examined the effects of South Carolina’s sex offender registration and notification policy on adult recidivism.

The current policy in South Carolina is considered broad, in that it subjects all registered sex
offenders to internet notification, regardless of the risk posed by the offender. Internet notification refers to posting sex offenders’ information in a publicly accessible online database.

In 1994, sex offenders were required to register with law enforcement. In 1999, this registration expanded to included internet notification. In this study the authors analyzed data for a sample of 6,064 male offenders convicted of at least one sex offense between 1990 and 2004.

They used models to estimate the influence of registration status on the risk of sexual recidivism while controlling for the length of time that offenders were in the community. Their analyses revealed that registration status at the time of recidivism was not associated with reduced risk of sex crime recidivism or reduced time to detection of sex crime recidivism.

These findings were consistent whether recidivism was defined as new charges or new convictions. They found no evidence that South Carolina’s policy decreased sex offender recidivism, which was consistent with the majority of outcome studies examining sex offender registration and notification systems.

However, this study did not control for changes in the notification and other policies that occurred during the study. The study, Effects of South Carolina’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policy on Adult Recidivism, is available in Criminal Justice Policy Review at:
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Martin Gruss

I think the greater issue is the public’s misconception that crime and criminal behavior over all, is an “us and them” situation. That is, that there are good people in the world and bad people in the world. So if we force all the bad people (in this case sex offenders) to register so that we know who they are and where they live, we will be safe from “them”. To their way of thinking, anyone who is convicted (or often merely accused) of committing any type of sex offense no matter how severe or simple, is one of “them”. There are no shades of grey. Thinking like this makes it easy for them to sleep at night, and the world seems like a safer place when you know who the “enemy” is.
It also makes people feel better about themselves, because they are not one of “them”. It is a mob mentality used with great sucess to rally groups of people against a perceived common enemy.
So it comes as no suprize to me that sex offender lists do nothing to actually prevent further criminal behavior by sex offenders. Infact, I would surmise being on the list would only make offenders feel socially ostricised and could actually increase their anti-social behavior (sex offending). The fact is, anyone with genitals and hormones is capable of committing a sex offense. On a list or not on a list, parents and everyone else, should be careful about the situations they place themselves or their children in, with anyone. It might be scary to think that anyone/everyone is capable of doing both good and bad things, but that is reality. We should be spending more time looking at, and working on the root causes of sex offenses. We should be discussing the objectification of women by society. We should be expanding treatment options for offenders and work on bringing them back into society after release from prison. We should be looking at the comercialisation and sexualising of children by clothing manufacturers and cosmetic companies. We should be building our communities and encouraging social interactions that bring people together.

Al Fullbright

Preventing public disclosure of any type of criminal records is nearly impossible in this computer age, but it has the same problem that we have with the death penalty. Sometimes these people are wrongfully accused and rushed to judgement with mob mentality.

At one time sex offenders were imprisoned and sent to mental hospitals. It seemed like they handled it pretty good. The records were closed to the public but available to the courts.

It certainly seems like it is more prevalent today. Now it seems like the crazies compete with each other.