By Sandy Rozek…..
The editorial, “Tighten the reins on sex offenders,” in the April 14 edition of The Daily Gazette encourages support for legislation that will do just that.
The appeal centers around two arguments: Level 1 registrants, assigned to 20 years on the registry, are so potentially dangerous that they need to be given an additional 10 years; and residency restrictions are useful in preventing sexual assaults on children.
In support of the first argument, the op-ed gives, with no supporting evidence, three scenarios of sexual crimes committed by registrants after they were dropped from the list. This information was conveyed to the Gazette by the sponsors of the bill. With no specifics, it is of course impossible to comment on these cases.
Another argument given on this point is that the risk of recidivism increases with time.
The article claims that “a number of respected studies” support this, but, again, there is no documentation.
I suspect that what is happening here is a conflation of the results of long-term follow up studies of a specific population and the reality of the risk level of individuals over a period of time. Long-term studies follow a defined group of individuals, and their risk of re-offense is determined by the actions of those in the group.
Five years after release, a risk level is assigned based on any re-offense up to that point.
If even one member of the group re-offends within the next five years, the re-offense rate for the group will be higher at the end of 10 years than it was at five. It is cumulative and is based on group, not individual, behavior.
On an individual basis, the opposite occurs. In High Risk Sex Offenders May Not Be High Risk Forever, Dr. Karl Hanson, in speaking of high risk offenders, said, “Overall, the risk of sexual recidivism was highest during the first few years after release, and decreased substantially the longer individuals remained sex offense-free in the community….Whereas the 5 year sexual recidivism rate for high risk sex offenders was 22 percent [at] release, this rate decreased to 4.2 percent for the offenders in the same static risk category who remained offence-free in the community for 10 years.” Of low risk offenders —level 1 —he says, “The recidivism rates of the low risk offenders were consistently low (1 percent to 5 percent) for all time periods.”
Disputing the efficacy of the second point, that residency restrictions are valuable law-enforcement tools, does not require a lengthy explanation. Simply put, there is no evidence at all of a correlation between residency restrictions and public safety.
The California Sex Offender Management Board, a highly respected body, has captured the essence of residency restrictions in this statement: “There is no research which supports the use of these strategies [residency restrictions], there is substantial research showing that such policies have no effect on preventing recidivism, and there is a growing body of research which indicates that residence restrictions actually increase sex offender recidivism and decrease community safety.”
Since this legislation is proposed in the state of New York, this statement from the government’s own report, “Effective Sex Offender Management in New York State,” is significant: “All of the empirical research examining the effectiveness of residency restrictions shows that residency restrictions do not work to reduce the risk of harm to children.”
Improving public safety, lowering the rate of sexual crime, and protecting children from harm are goals shared by all decent Americans.
Increasing punitive measures against registered citizens and limiting their options even more than they are will not accomplish these noble goals.
Published 4/15/2016 at The Daily Gazette