Do Sex Offender Registries Make Us Less Safe? Laws Purporting to Protect the Public May Be Increasing Sex Offender Recidivism Rates

By Prescott, J. J. | Regulation, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Do Sex Offender Registries Make Us Less Safe? Laws Purporting to Protect the Public May Be Increasing Sex Offender Recidivism Rates


Prescott, J. J., Regulation


During the 1990s and 2000s, sex offenders became subject to some of the most sweeping and novel crime legislation in the United States. Two early innovations inaugurating this trend were sex offender registration laws, which require that convicted sex offenders, once released, regularly provide valid contact information and other identifying data to law enforcement authorities, and sex offender notification laws, which complement registration laws by making an offender's registration and criminal history information available to the public, most notably through the now-familiar searchable online databases known as "web registries." Laws of both types, referred to generally as "SORN laws" and mandated by the federal government in some form since the mid-1990s, now exist in every state.

State legislatures enacted SORN laws with the explicit and exclusive aim of reducing sex offender recidivism. Registration laws were designed solely to enable more effective law enforcement supervision (and apprehension, if necessary) of previously convicted sex offenders, who were assumed to be at serious risk for reoffending. Similarly, notification laws were passed with the singular goal of helping potential victims protect themselves from known and nearby sex offenders by facilitating the public monitoring and physical avoidance of these individuals. Proponents of registration and notification laws continue to defend them entirely on these grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court has concluded, at least with respect to early versions of SORN laws, that state legislatures intended merely to "regulate" released offenders who may prove to be dangerous, not to punish them for previously committed crimes.

The general idea that we ought to "regulate" released offenders--of any type--to reduce the likelihood of their returning to crime is an attractive one, at least in theory. Criminal recidivism generates significant social harm. As many as two-thirds of all released felony inmates are readmitted to prison within a few years, and the public generally views individuals convicted of sex offenses as among those most likely to reoffend upon release. It is not surprising, therefore, that the public's impression of sex offender dangerousness, when catalyzed by a few gruesome and headline-grabbing crimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, produced the first SORN laws, which in turn led to the federal acts that extended SORN laws nationwide.

Nevertheless, despite their now-widespread use, SORN laws became the norm without any systematic study of their consequences. Admittedly, the logic underlying these laws seems at first difficult to gainsay: if a known sex offender poses even a small risk to a potential new victim, how can it hurt if the police are keeping better tabs on that offender or if the offender's neighbors are made aware that he is a threat so they can take measures to reduce their own risk of victimization? But this question and its implied answer presume that SORN laws have no influence on whether released sex offenders opt to pursue new victims in the first place. If the enforcement of notification laws imposes significant financial, social, and psychological costs on released sex offenders, as an avalanche of evidence suggests it does, then notification may in fact be criminogenic. The result may well be many more attempted attacks by convicted sex offenders and therefore higher recidivism rates on the whole, even if every individual attack attempted becomes somewhat less likely to succeed.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Furthermore, the logic offered by most SORN advocates ignores the potentially significant, yet unintended, consequences that these laws may have on many other distinct facets of sex offender behavior. For one example, SORN laws may function as a deterrent to potential sex offenders, i.e., those with "clean" records who want to avoid the prospect of being publicly branded a sex offender if they are caught and convicted of committing a sex crime. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Do Sex Offender Registries Make Us Less Safe? Laws Purporting to Protect the Public May Be Increasing Sex Offender Recidivism Rates
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.