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September 30, 2015

"The Costs and Benefits of Subjecting Juveniles to Sex-Offender Registration and Notification"

LogoThe title of this post is the title of this notable new research report released by the R Street Institute. Here is the report's executive summary:

Every state and territory in the United States has registration and notification laws that apply to adults convicted of, and juveniles adjudicated delinquent for, certain sex offenses.  Most jurisdictions enacted these laws on their own, but expanded them in response to the Adam Walsh Act of 2006 (AWA).

Registration laws require offenders to appear in person to provide identifying information (e.g., fingerprints, DNA samples) and, at least once a year, to provide an updated current photograph.  States vary with respect to the kinds of additional information they require, but the list is extensive.  An in-person update also is required for any covered change in life circumstances.  These include changes in residential, school, work or email addresses, screen names and even blog avatars.  

The time allowed to complete each update is short. Failure to register or update an existing registration is itself a felony.  Offenders may be covered by multiple states, each with its own rules and procedures.  Notification laws make some of this information publicly available via the Internet.

Registration is calculated to produce about $200 million in social benefits per year.  Social costs are calculated to range from $200 million to $2 billion, depending on the proportion of registrants listed due to offenses committed as juveniles.  Thus, net benefits are calculated to range from -$40 million to -$1 billion per year, with present-value net benefits that range from -$2 billion to -$20 billion.  This result depends on a small number of parameters.  First, based on the best available study in the literature, which applies to all sex offenders and not just juveniles, registration is assumed to have reduced sex-offense recidivism by about one-eighth.  This translates into an annual reduction of about 800 major sex offenses committed by juveniles.

Notification is estimated to produce no social benefits, with social costs per-year that range from $10 billion to $40 billion and present-value costs that range from -$100 billion to -$600 billion.  About three-fourths of these costs are borne by sex offenders’ neighbors. This occurs because living near a registered sex offender – whether an adult or juvenile – has a substantial “disamenity” value.  Costs imposed on juvenile offenders are calculated to range from $400 million to $2 billion per year.  Costs on their families are calculated to add another 50 percent to these amounts.  Additional costs on third parties are calculated as: $3 billion per year on employers for registry searches; $100-$500 million on employers for adaption and mitigation of employment issues; and $200 million to $1 billion on the public for registry searches.

Because notification cannot produce net benefits, the qualitative prospective benefit-cost analysis focuses on ways to reduce the social costs of notification.  A number of reform alternatives warrant consideration to reduce the substantial net social costs of notification. These alternatives involve exempting certain fractions of registrants listed due to offenses committed as juveniles.  High-quality risk assessment is necessary to minimize false positives.

September 30, 2015 at 08:42 AM | Permalink


"Disamenity" is the drop in real estate prices from locating a sex offender near a home. In my lawyer residential area, there two registered sex offenders. They work there and live elsewhere. No disamenity for the lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 30, 2015 9:03:24 AM

Prof. Berman should be encouraged to cite more of these articles from the real world. I also appreciated learning the word, disamenity.

For a few lousy make work government jobs, the lawyer is imposing hideously high costs on the public. This is similar to a factory unloading waste into a river, low benefit to the factory, high cost to the environment. Rent seeking should be criminalized or confer tort liability on the malfeasor.

I would support an aggregate claim of an unconstitutional regulatory taking by a registry. The government should compensate the propriety owners for their disamenity costs. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 30, 2015 9:12:47 AM

Homeowners aren't under any obligation to notify potential home buyers when a murderer, bank robber, thief, or crackpot lives next door. You could argue that those next door neighbors could also bring down a home's value? Why should there be a ridiculous registry to notify everyone that a sex offender, who has done their time, lives next door. Get rid of the purely punitive registry, it serves no purpose but to ruin families.

Posted by: kat | Sep 30, 2015 11:23:50 AM

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