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October 9, 2015

Highlighting who is now highlighting the inefficacy of sex offender registries

This new local Ohio article, headlined "Sex offender registries draw criticism from some unlikely sources," spotlights that some perhaps unexpected voices are advocating against sex offender registries. Here are excertps (with links from the source):

You might think that all advocates for rape victims would support the practice of forcing sex offenders to publicly register their addresses after their release from prison. But you would be mistaken.

Growing numbers of victim advocates and criminal justice researchers are among those who have concluded that sex offender registries are too costly and provide little or no protection to the public.  "The registry gives the appearance that our community is safer, but we really question whether it lives up to that expectation," said Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center....

It's not surprising that defense attorneys oppose the registries, but therapists and victim's advocates also are among those calling for change.

"The biggest frustration we have with the registry is it feeds into the myths that the general public has about sexual assault," Miller said.  "It feeds this stranger-danger mentality when we know it's such a small fraction of the sexual assaults that occur in our community."  Miller said the registries give people a "false sense of security" that sex offenders can be easily identified and avoided, when that's not the case. 

Tyffani Dent, a clinical director at the Abraxas Counseling Center and a psychologist who works with both victims and offenders, said registries spread law enforcement too thin. Deputies have to check in not only on repeat, violent offenders but also teenagers who sent illicit text messages to their girlfriends, and who pose little threat to their neighbors.   "I want for victims to get justice," she said. "Unfortunately, registration the way it is now doesn't do what it's designed to do."

Several large-scale studies have shown that registries don't do much to prevent criminals from committing new crimes.

  • A 2008 U.S. Department of Justice study concluded that "Megan's Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses."
  • A 2011 study from the University of Chicago found that "registered sex offenders have higher rates of recidivism" than those who did not have to register.
  • Another study published in 2011 found that a registration requirement has a deterrent effect on sexual offenders, but the notification aspect of the registries leads to higher rates of offense because of the social and financial costs to the offender. 
  • A 2004 Canadian study found that "after 15 years, 73 percent of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offense."

Dent doesn't think the registry system should be abandoned entirely.  Instead, she favors registering only the most dangerous offenders.  That would free up resources for preventative measures and treatment, such as mental health therapy, which Dent said has been proven to reduce recidivism.   In particular, Dent said cognitive behavioral therapies, which address the way people think and behave, have been proven to reduce recidivism among sex offenders.... 

Miller ... noted that victim's services and treatment programs are both underfunded, and could use some of the more than half a million dollars Cuyahoga County spends maintaining its registry.  "It really is a question of where do we put our resources where we're going to have the maximum impact and I'm not sure the sex offender registry is where we're getting the most impact," Miller said.

This companion story to the one quoted above carries the headline "Sex offender says registry amounts to punishment for life." Here is how it starts:

Nearly three decades ago, Emil Basista was convicted of raping a 33-year-old woman. While serving time in prison, he was retroactively labeled as a sexual predator, a designation that requires him to report where he lives every 90 days to the sheriff's department. Basista, 66, is one of several thousand Ohioans who have tried to challenge the state's sexual offender registration requirements, contending that the publicly accessible registries amount to life-long punishment.

October 9, 2015 at 10:04 AM | Permalink


Well, I'm glad to see that at least some victims' rights organizations now have major second thoughts about sex offender registries. They even said that enforcement of these registries spreads law enforcement out too thin especially where budget crunches have forced some cities to down-size some of their law enforcement personnel even if violent crime should rise!

I'd add at least one more thing: these registries have the potential of putting law enforcement personnel themselves at needless risk in an already risky job. These registries could actually provoke some former sex offenders and sex predators who might otherwise go straight upon completion of their sentences to want to retaliate against these laws and restrictions by targeting police, prosecutors, parole officers, judges, bailiffs, and especially politicians for revenge-murders or threats of same. We have had one incident earlier this year in Savannah, Georgia, where an ex-offender made bomb threats against that city's registry. Fortunately, nobody got hurt, but there is always a first time.

Another scenario might involve clusters of former sex offenders in Miami residing under a freeway finally getting the idea to arm themselves illegally and to form a radical political self-defense group like the Black Panthers to have confrontations with the police. Another scenario that could happen in the event of a major domestic political crisis/disaster might involve some demagogue attempting to organize down-and-out have-nots that would include former sex offenders into a major political group. The crazy cult leader, Jim Jones of the People's Temple, did this back in the 1970's with San Francisco's poor to put pressure on main-line politicians.

It's one thing for police to monitor some man or woman with a past violent record provided the police do it discretely without allowing a hysterical public to have access to these lists. Great Britain keeps its registries restricted to law-enforcement personnel and to specific victims on condition that they maintain confidentiality.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Oct 9, 2015 1:10:28 PM

The radical retaliation points are not likely. What IS likely is that registrants give up and just commit crimes against the registry conditions themselves and go to prison for life. That scenario has played out a few dozen times so far.

Spreading resources is also to blame, which leads to crimes not prevented or solved because said resources are spent in enforcing registry conditions for registrants. The crimes themselves are most probably being committed by non-registrants, as less than 8% of registrants commit another offense of any kind (sex-related or not), other than registration violations.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Oct 10, 2015 6:34:26 PM

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