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August 16, 2016

"Portmanteau Ascendant: Post-Release Regulations and Sex Offender Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable paper by J.J. Prescott now appearing on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The purported purpose of sex offender post-release regulations (e.g., community notification and residency restrictions) is the reduction of sex offender recidivism.  On their face, these laws seem well-designed and likely to be effective.  A simple economic framework of offender behavior can be used to formalize these basic intuitions: in essence, post-release regulations either increase the probability of detection or increase the immediate cost of engaging in the prohibited activity (or both), and so should reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior.  These laws aim to incapacitate people outside of prison.  Yet, empirical researchers to date have found essentially no reliable evidence that these laws work to reduce sex offender recidivism (despite years and years of effort), and some evidence (and plenty of expert sentiment) suggests that these laws may increase sex offender recidivism.

In this Article, I develop a more comprehensive economic model of criminal behavior — or, rather, I present a simple, but complete model — that clarifies that these laws have at best a theoretically ambiguous effect on recidivism levels.  First, I argue that the conditions that must hold for these laws to increase the legal and physical costs of returning to sex crime are difficult to satisfy.  There are simply too many necessary conditions, some of which are at odds with others.  Second, I contend that even when these conditions hold, our intuitions mislead us in this domain by ignoring a critical aspect of criminal deterrence: to be deterred, potential offenders must have something to lose.  I conclude that post-release laws are much more likely to succeed if they are combined with robust reintegration efforts to give previously convicted sex offenders a stake in society, and therefore, in eschewing future criminal activity.

August 16, 2016 at 01:15 PM | Permalink


What happens when even at least a few former sex offenders say, "Enough is enough!," and rise up against these restrictions in open rebellion? Does law enforcement complacently believe that former sex offenders don't have enough back bone to rise up against these post-sentence penalties? We used to think that gays and lesbians would never fight back, especially physically until Stonewall occurred until 1969/70. We did not think that non-white convicts in northern or southern prisons would ever rise up against brutality until both the Attica, New York, uprising in 1971 and the Angola Prison in Angola, Louisiana, uprising of 1972 disabused us of such foolish notions. We used to kid ourselves that black inmates were just like Uncle Tom and Aunt Jamima (sp.?), until we found out a little differently by the early 1970's.

We thought that U.S. GI's would never rise up against authoritarian command influence within the U.S. armed forces until we belatedly learned of several incidences as early as the 1900 Philippines War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and above all the Vietnam War.

Will disgruntled former sex offenders be the next to shock us out of our complacency when we might pick up a news paper with a headline of a former sex offender threatening a prosecutor, killing a police officer, etc.?

I certainly do not violent rising up, but I fear that the stupid intransigency of our politicians and law enforcement will make such violence inevitable. As the late Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." These sex offender restrictions are the new Jim Crow.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Aug 16, 2016 5:06:23 PM

I don't know about "rising up," but the restrictions placed on sex offenders who have served their sentences make it almost impossible to live a law abiding life. To an extent this is an issue with all criminal convictions being available to potential landlords, employers and the like, but when you factor in the more arbitrary provisions like residing within 1000 feet of a school or daycare, it's far worse. This country needs to focus on the robust reintegration of those convicted for all crimes. Prohibitions on holding certain jobs should be strictly related to the job in question (why can't a convicted felon deal blackjack?), and employers should be immune from negligent hiring claims. Criminal records should be sealed to all but the government after a short period of time following the end of a sentence. If one wants someone to return to crime, the quickest way to do so is to tell them they have no future and nothing to work for.

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