For some states, the legislative sessions are over or drawing to a close; for others, they are still in full swing. One would be hard-pressed to find even one state in which an issue or a concern about the management of those on sex offender registries was not reflected in at least one piece of legislation. Some states, such as Texas, have so many that even those doggedly tracking them have lost count.
They have one thing in common: they all pit the safety of communities, especially children, against the rights of registered offenders.
One editorial made the statement, “Victims first, sex offenders second.” Another included a quote from a parent saying, “ ‘We are not trying to welcome more and more of these people [registrants] into the community…. Let us not be worried so much about their rights….’ ”
Any news story or editorial on the subject with a comment board will garner massive amounts of comments with one common theme: “How can anyone care about the rights of sex offenders? The rights and safety of children must come first.”
What is wrong with this picture? We can answer that by looking at what research and experts in the field tell us are the most effective methods of dealing with those who have sexually offended. These include laws, policies, and practices that afford former offenders living in the community the ability to find and maintain employment and decent housing; have access to appropriate counseling and community services; stay connected with family, community, and faith-based support; have the means to adequately provide for family and children; and reintegrate into society and a stable, law-abiding lifestyle.
Those are the factors shown to reduce the risk of recidivism and work toward public safety, less crime, and fewer victims.
And what creates safer communities? What will truly put children first? Lowered recidivism, less crime, and fewer victims.
Why do we see what is best for victims and what is best for former offenders as two separate things? They aren’t. It isn’t either-or. It isn’t one or the other. What is best for one is also best for the other.
In a recently released report, this statement, originally found in Criminal Justice and Behavior (May 2010 37:477-481), was used: “…sex offender policies are often inconsistent with empirical evidence about sex offender risks, recidivism, reintegration and supervision…. Legislators cite the news media and the views of their constituents — not research evidence — as their primary sources of information about sex offenses and offenders….”
Should our legislators be held accountable for the effectiveness of the bills they write and the laws they pass? Does the public have the right to demand legislation and laws and policies formulated from research-based evidence?
We must answer these questions, but first we must answer this one: are we ready to do what will best assure public safety rather than continue to pass laws based on feelings and opinions instead of facts?