The key reason for this research was to survey the effectiveness of sex offender registration and notification policies that are known to reduce sexual violence. Protecting the public from sex offenders has become a priority of legislators at all levels, as evidenced by the number of sex offender-related policies that have passed at the federal level in the past fifteen years. While the criminal justice response to sex crimes varies across the country, the basic and key goals of all law enforcement and legislative bodies is the reduction of sexual violence, especially repeat offenses by known sex offenders.
Note: Sex offender notification and registration policies frequently target juveniles who were arbitrated as minors. A separate investigation related to juveniles was conducted, to research to the effects of these policies.
The most prominent policies targeted at sex offenders pertain to registration and notification. Registration is the practice of requiring convicted sex offenders to provide law enforcement with their address and details about their, employment and other information, which is entered into a database. This system helps law enforcement monitor known sex offenders and aids in the investigation of new allegations.
The federal government has played a key role in shaping sex offender policy. The Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 mandated that all states develop and maintain sex offender registries. In 1996, Congress enacted Megan’s Law, which required every state to develop strategies for informing the public about sex offender convictions. The same year, the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act was enacted, requiring the development of a nationwide registry to prevent sex offenders from avoiding registration by moving from state to state. In 2003, the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act mandated states to develop publicly accessible websites containing the sex offender registry information.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (PL 109-248) includes the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which was passed specifically to reduce state-to-state variations in registration and notification policies. The Adam Walsh Act (AWA) broadened registration and notification necessities, augmented the duration of registration and notification, and enhanced penalties for failure to register. Furthermore, per AWA, registration and notification requirements are based solely on conviction offenses; these requirements cannot be amended according to mitigating factors or empirical risk assessment scores. In this regard, the AWA registration and notification requirements are similar to those already in place in South Carolina, where the program of research took place, and might serve to forecast a result that would occur under nationwide implementation.
Unfortunately, the research indicates that the federal sex offender law was not effective. According to the Department of Justice, the federal tier-based sex offender registration and notification system put in place in 2006 does not predict risk of sex offender recidivism; its authors point to the need for a system based on more empirical data.
In 2011, researchers noticed that sex offender policies and laws were possibly leading to unintended negative consequences, there was an undertaking to create effective policies that are not overly broad.
At the same time, other researchers declared the sex offender laws to be perverted justice, claiming that the laws do not necessarily what they are intended to do. Among numerous unintended results, it was noticed that sex offender registration and notification laws sometimes lead to criminal behavior;.in other words, offenders whose personal information is exposed to the public become more likely to commit crimes. The research was based on two databases; one was developed to determine whether sex offender registries reduce crime. The second was developed to determine the sex offender recidivism rate upon release from prison. The conclusion of the research was that neither database supports the hypothesis that sex offender registries effectively increase public safety.
The main intent behind the enactment of the statutory rape legislation was to prevent naïve youths from being manipulated by older men. The age at which the state considers someone able to make a rational decision to consent to sex varies from state to state. In some cases, statutory rape laws were perceived to be too harsh while, in other cases, the same laws were considered to solve an ongoing problem (Karen Kersting, 2013).
The prevalance of criminal cases involving older boyfriends of your girls caused lawmakers to come up with a reconciling law popularly known as Romeo and Juliet. This law upholds the unlawfulness of consensual sex between older males and younger females, but it provides more lenient sentences and distinguishes statutory rape from child molestation.
Research indicates other factors related to recidivism, including psychological treatment while in prison and what conditions should occur for the imprisonment to benefit the offender. In this regard, the research suggests courts need to strike a balance between offender’s rehabilitation potential and the need for society to protect its citizens, including further scrutinizing the logical amount of time to keep sex offenders behind bars.
Research indicates that most offenders are not likely to repeat crimes after being imprisoned (Brooks-Gordon, 2006). Most sex offenders released from prison do not reoffend right away. But their resolve often changes when it starts to sink in that society is prejudiced against them and not ready to accept them back as changed individuals. The psychological and emotional humiliation these individuals undergo makes them feel that prison was a good place after all, and they go ahead and commit the act so they can be imprisoned again. Faith-based methods can also be used to change the offenders as it is clear that the fear of God can make one change their behavior.
The increasing efficacy of offender treatment can largely be attributed to modern behavioral modification models that stress the deterrence of relapse by recognizing and eluding criminal impulses. Continued incarceration may offer little help to both the offender and the state, as the inclination to change (or not) generally stems from the offender's mind (Karen Kersting, 2013). A psychological approach to the problem has yielded some results, though great improvements still need to be made. Psychologist Karl Hanson identified the difference in recidivism rates when sex offenders are treated and when they are not (Brooks-Gordon, 2006). The recidivism rates were 9.9% for the treated offenders, as compared to a 17.3% for those who were not treated.
People commit sexual crimes for various reasons. Before judgment, courts should determine whether there is a psychological reason (beyond the defendant's control) behind the offense. This information must be considered for the future: after release, factors such as age, sexual preoccupations, intimacy deficit, and number of offenses increase an individual’s risk of recidivism (Brooks-Gordon, 2006). The research also indicated that sex offenders are a vastly heterogeneous population; not all of them have a high possibility of backsliding.
However, research also indicates that recidivism and the effectiveness of sex offender registries differs according to age and race as indicated below.
Sex offenders are differentiated from other criminals by the fact that the motives behind their actions are too complicated to be understood by the nonmedical community and call for a comprehensive psychological analysis. Emotions and perceptions have a great role to play in sexual offenses; psychotherapy is an important element of understanding the nature of sexual offenders (Karen Kersting, 2013). However, the motives behind sexual crimes are controversial and psychologists do not agree on the causes or appropriate treatments.
Based on this research, and a recently released FBI report, it can be concluded that sex offender registries do not have much effect in reducing recidivism. The FBI report indicated there is no relationship between recidivism reduction and a sex offender registry, and actually have a reverse effect, as convicted sex offenders seem to be more attracted to committing crimes once their personal information is made public. Even those under close surveillance by state agencies do not seem to be deterred—presumably because the linked psychological, social, or monetary costs make crime more appealing.
Brooks-Gordon, B. (2006). Psychological interventions for treatment of adult sex offenders. British Medical Journal. doi:10.1136/bmj.333.7557.5
KAREN KERSTING (2013, August 15). New hope for sex offender treatment. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/newhope.aspx
Price, S., Schurin, Z., & Connecticut (2007). Sex offender registry. Hartford: Connecticut General Assembly, Office of Legislative Research.
United States (2006). National sex offender registry: New hires data has potential for updating addresses of convicted sex offenders : report to congressional requesters. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Accountability Office.