Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Criminal Justice Officials' Views of Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Registration, Community Notification, and Residency Restrictions

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Criminal Justice Officials' Views of Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Registration, Community Notification, and Residency Restrictions

Article excerpt

Despite widespread media attention, research efforts, and political support, there is relatively little known about how individuals who are employed in the criminal justice system perceive the fairness, efficacy, and scope of policies aimed at sex offenders. The present study considers the attitudes and beliefs toward sex offenders and sex offender laws, including registration, community notification, and residency restrictions, held by a diverse sample of criminal justice officials who represent all three major components of the criminal justice system. Findings reveal that variation exists among types of criminal justice officials with respect to their perspectives on sex offenders, and most criminal justice officials endorse the implementation and enforcement of current sex offender laws, despite having doubts about their efficacy.

KEYWORDS: sex offender, sex offender law, registration, notification, residency restriction, CATSO

In recent years, few criminal justice policies have received more political, media, and community attention than sex offender registration and community notification (SORN) laws. While receiving strong political (Sample and Kadleck 2008) and public (Levenson, Brannon, Fortney, and Baker 2007) support, these laws are designed to reduce sex offender recidivism by providing the public with information about the identities and residential locations of convicted sex offenders. With a special focus on protecting children, such sex offender policies are widely believed to be effective tools that allow parents (and others) to monitor potential offenders in ways that maximize child safety. Typically coupled with residency restrictions, which prohibit registered sex offenders from residing within 250 to 1,500 feet of numerous types of "child congregation locations," SORN policies are often thought to be new, innovative approaches to the pursuit of public safety (Tewksbury and Connor 2014a).

However, popular beliefs about SORN laws are not necessarily accurate. First, the idea of registration and community notification of known criminal offenders and their locations is a very old practice, both in the United States and elsewhere (Logan 2009). Second, the majority of research addressing the efficacy of SORN policies concludes that such laws yield little to no intended positive outcomes (e.g., Tewksbury and Jennings, 2010; Welchans, 2005; Zgoba, Veysey, and Dalessandro 2010). Additional studies indicate that SORN laws may actually facilitate recidivism through the numerous, deleterious collateral consequences that are common ramifications for registered sex offenders (Barnes, Dukes, Tewksbury, and DeTroye 2009; Levenson and Cotter 2005; Levenson, Zgoba, and Tewksbury 2007; Tewksbury 2004, 2005; Tewksbury and Connor 2014b; Tewksbury and Lees 2006, 2007; Tewksbury and Mustaine 2007). Although there is myriad research documenting the negative effects of SORN policies on registrants and a growing body of studies pointing to the failure of such laws to achieve stated goals, there has yet to be a significant assessment of the ways that SORN laws are implemented and how individuals who are employed in the criminal justice system, often responsible for implementing and enforcing such laws, perceive and experience SORN policies.

The present study seeks to add to the call of Vess, Day, Powell, and Graffam (2013). These researchers showed problems with SORN laws in nine countries, contending that there is a need for more research on "rates of offending, the collateral consequences to offenders and their families, and the cost of such laws." However, the primary goal of the present research is to advance understandings of a more foundational issue: how individuals who are employed in the criminal justice system and often responsible for the implementation and enforcement of SORN policies perceive sex offenders and the fairness, efficacy, and scope of these policies aimed at sex offenders, including the patterns and sources of these attitudes and beliefs. …

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