This question will be used as a discussion point for a 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, 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: