Monday, February 8, 2010

SO Registries: Giving Citizens What they Want? Sex Offender Registries—Giving Citizens What they Want?

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?

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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