By Sandy Rozek
Melissa Martin (2/28/20) makes an eloquent but often erroneous case in favor of sexual offense registries.
These registries have been in place in every state for twenty to thirty years. Many studies have been done evaluating the effectiveness of them and their contribution to public safety. The results are overwhelmingly negative.
Registries do not reduce reoffense by those who have already offended. Sexual reoffense being high is a fraud that has been perpetuated for many years.
Contrary to Ms. Martin’s negative assessment of recidivism studies, they are found to be highly accurate and consistent. The earliest reoffense study found was in New York in 1944 (p.324,#6). Reoffense by sexual offenders, measured by rearrest, was 7% after 11 years, and that was when only violent offenders were tracked. The addition of statutory, non-contact, and failure to register offenses lowered the overall rate, but it remains relatively consistent. See a national study here and a compilation of state studies, where available, here. For those who cannot or will not alter their behavior, being on a registry is not a deterrent. The fact that the reoffense rate has held steady over the many years in the single digits, both before and after the emergence of sexual offender registries, is evidence of that.
Registries do not deter first-time offenders. This study examined “… the effectiveness of a variety of sexual offender laws passed between the two decades of 1990 and 2010. This study used a sample of 1,129 sexual offenders released from New Jersey State correctional facilities…. When each law is analyzed using its specific purpose and application process, and then compared to a sample of sex offense cases, it becomes apparent that the laws do not apply to a wide percentage of sex offense cases. The researchers conclude that the laws have little preventive capability.”
Studies verify that between 95% and 96% of all new sexual crime is committed by those with no previous sexual crime convictions and therefore not on a registry. Therefore, registries do not protect against sexual assault; they especially do not protect children from sexual abuse as, correctly noted by Ms. Martin, virtually all abusers of children are those in their lives, e.g., their family members, peers, and authority figures, persons who are highly unlikely to already be on a registry.
Rather than contributing to public safety, sexual offender registries have been decried as decreasing it. In addition to creating re-entry barriers for those with sexual convictions, barriers that affect their ability to find and maintain the essentials most closely associated with rehabilitation, such as housing, employment, and social support, a large increase in homelessness has been found as a direct result of public notification and residency restrictions. Additionally, vigilantism against those on the registry occurs, ranging from harassment to physical harm to persons or their property all the way to murder.
There is no upside to the registry. It does not lower reoffense. It does not deter crime. It does not protect citizens. It does not make society safer. It does not encourage rehabilitation and reentry.
And for the privilege of maintaining something that does nothing good but creates only harm, each state bears a financial burden in millions of dollars in resources each year.
And counting family members of registrants, who suffer the same deprivations and discrimination as their registered loved ones, society bears the burden of millions of wasted and destroyed lives.
There is no valid reason for maintaining sexual offense registries.
Sexual offense registries must go.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.