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Are We Being Smart About Sex Offenders?

May 8, 2011 10:52:17 pm
Comments (11)

By Julia Dahl

Photo by Brittany Greene via Flickr

A John Jay College professor explores whether laws that severely restrict the lives of thousands of sex offenders actually keep us safer.

It’s been five years since the enactment of the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law named for the murdered son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh that compels all 50 states to comply with a set of strict regulations for the registration and monitoring of sex offenders. Since passage, the deadline for compliance has been extended several times as states balked at some of the act’s more controversial elements. So far, only four are in compliance, with yet another deadline looming in July.

Why are so many states dragging their feet? According to John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Karen J. Terry, author of  “A ‘Megan’s Law’ Sourcebook,” the answer may have more to do with tight state budgets than any particular ideology. Terry, whose essay, “What is Smart Sex Offender Policy?,” appears in the May issue of Criminology & Public Policy, spoke with The Crime Report’s Julia Dahl about whether monitoring sex offenders for life is really the best way to keep our kids safe from sexual predators.

The Crime Report: In your essay for Criminology & Public Policy you write that sex offender registration laws are “not based on a sound theoretical framework of crime prevention and control.”  What are they based on?

Karen Terry:  Emotion. No politician is going to say, ‘I don’t want to pass legislation to help protect a child from being raped and killed—I’m going to look out for the rights of sex offenders.’ We’re scared of violent sexual offenders, and when we hear about kids who have been kidnapped and raped and killed [by strangers] we take steps based on those unique cases as opposed to the broad range of cases that are more likely to happen.

TCR: What kinds of cases are more likely?

KT: Ninety percent of kids who are abused are abused by someone they know, someone in a position of authority, like a parent, a babysitter, or a teacher. With these registries, we’re warning our kids about strangers who could come and attack them when we should be warning them about people that they know. Is it good to let them know about a particular person who lives nearby? Sure, but I don’t think that’s necessarily going to keep them from ever being sexually abused.

TCR: Most states already have registration and notification laws for sex offenders. How does the Adam Walsh Act differ?

KT: It’s more restrictive than the previous notification and registration laws. There are a number of requirements within the act that make the monitoring of sex offenders even stricter and allow them even less mobility in the community. One controversial aspect [in the law] states that any juvenile over the age of 14 would be subject to these requirements. But if you look at the empirical evidence, what article after article shows is that the majority of kids who commit sexual offenses as juveniles do not go on to offend as adults.

Another part of the law that states disagree with is the risk assessment procedure [which categorizes sex offenders in three levels—level three being the most serious]. Now, many states use an actuarial risk assessment procedure, which means they look at different factors related to the person’s offenses when they assess them. The Adam Walsh Act says if someone has committed a certain type of offense they automatically get categorized at a certain level. It makes a lot more offenders level-three offenders, which then makes it much more expensive for the state.

TCR: If states don’t comply, though, they risk losing federal funding.

KT: Right. I believe they would lose 10 percent of their Byrne funding. But the more restrictive the level of supervision, the more expensive an offender will be for the state. A number of states have [concluded]  that it would cost them more to enact it that it would for them to not get the funding.

TCR: Has there been research done on whether these stricter registration laws are effective?

KT: It depends on how you measure it. Most people have looked at recidivism—have the laws reduced recidivism for people on the registries. But generally it doesn’t seem to prevent crimes from happening.

We’re already so far down the road of trying to become compliant with the regulations of the Adam Walsh Act that I don’t think that anyone would advocate just getting rid of all these laws. But when you’re talking about the very extensive supervision and monitoring for life of people who might not ever commit another crime like this—that’s pretty extreme. What you can change perhaps is the number of people who are categorized as level-three offenders. There are ways in which you can modify [the law] so it’s less restrictive, but you still are able to monitor the most serious offenders. When you cast the net too wide you lose sight of who the most serious offenders actually are.

ED NOTE: a full version of Prof. Terry’s article can be purchased at the Criminology & Public Policy website.

Julia Dahl is deputy managing editor of The Crime Report.  

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Posted by Arafath
Tuesday, June 05, 2012 05:06

So you don’t think that being full of hormones and eseoxpd to so much sexualised media means that 14 year old boys are going to be at least someone interested in sex? I think that the answer to that question has nothing at all to do with what I was talking about.While there are certainly a few 14 year olds who are rapists, to suggest that the majority of the boys on that graph are actual sex offenders shows a very limited grasp of the subject.You and Mr. CLS are suggesting that they could not possibly be sex offenders. I am suggesting for the sake of argument that they easily could be. All of us are making assertions with no (or at best anecdotal and tangential) evidence: the difference is that I’m admitting it while you and the article’s author are looking at the graph, getting a gut feeling that it couldn’t possibly be true, and declaring your gut feeling by fiat to be authoritative. An appropriate response in the age of truthiness, but I’m afraid it doesn’t make you right.Criminal trials are matters of public record in the US. If you want to assert that the majority of boys placed onto sex offender registries are there for engaging in “a normal part of growing up”, there’s a simple way to back up that claim: pull the trial documents and run the numbers. It’s called doing the fucking research, and many people dislike it because it’s much more time-consuming and effort-intensive than just shooting off your mouth.

Posted by PATRICIA Win
Saturday, June 18, 2011 12:25

Thank you this. I have two sons on the registry. One who is completely innocent. The girl grew up and recanted and gave a stunning deposition to my son’s attorney in Baltimore. Why did she lie about such a terrible thing? Two reasons: She came from a family of murderers (2 uncles who lived with her including another w a history of sex abuse), a mother and sister who were both prostitutes and drug addicts. My son is mentally ill and naive and he fell in love with this child’s older sister, who used him. The younger sister was jealous, extremely willful and street smart , incredibly so for her age. She also was encouraged by her grandmother who used to burn her with cigarettes, she said, when she did something wrong and a neighborhood watchwoman, who had “turned somebody else in the year prior”. This girl ended up giving the story to the local city paper in Baltimore saying my son was “the nicest person you’d ever want to meet” and he did “nothing”. But, he’s still on the registry.
My other son had sex with a prostitute (2 weeks shy of 16) who lied to him and to the police about her age. But he’s a level 3….never had any serious crimes before, never hurt anyone but he’s a level 3.
He’s lost the best job he ever had, lives in fear of losing visitation with his son and more.

Few people realize or care how much damage these laws have done. Once you’re on there, it’s almost impossible to do anything but live in fear. Most of the people, usually men, who are on the registry are not dangerous, and esp. not to pre-pubescent children. But the hysteria has been a social/legal tidal wave.

Posted by pachrismith
Thursday, May 19, 2011 06:20

Rudy101; your rants about how the government cannot do this or that borders on insanity. Do you really think Hitler “converted” all of Germany to his way of thinking? I spent 8 years there, learned the language, got to know the people, even spent some time talking to a guy that fired anti-aircraft cannons at my dad while they were bombing his town where I was stationed for three years. Hitler fooled enough people into believing his rhetoric long enough to establish himself, and when the people woke up, the secret police were hauling dissenters off and they were never seen again. Government can very well do what you say it can’t. I’m working toward the same end you are, but taking the advise I’ve seen in your other posts is going to get people jailed and discredit everything we work for. I’m tired of listening to your garbage and don’t even read your posts anymore – don’t have to. Already know what you’re going to say. When you turn somebody off that’s on your side, you should be able to imagine what you’re doing to those you might otherwise at least get to thinking. Shut up!

Posted by dmain
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 08:23

Thank you, Julia Dahl and Karen Terry for shedding light on the ugly,
but much needed debate. I will preface my comment by saying this: I am
a non-convicted, registered sex offender. I had a withhold of
adjudication, which means the court had everything it needed to
convict me, but it withheld judgement. What did I do? I had consensual
sex with a 15yo girl, when I was 18. The mother found out, called the
sherriffs office, and I was arrested. Here’s the gritty bits: when I
say consensual, I mean to say the sex was HER idea. I did make a weak
attempt at disuading her, but in the end, we did the “deed”. Now, for
anyone who doesn’t “buy my story”, you can buy the court transcripts
which will show I’m telling the truth. Fast forward 11 years and I’m
still on this list. I represented myself in court for the majority of
my sentence. I filed 11 motions, and won 10. Guess which one I lost-
that’s right, removal from the registry. See in Florida, they’ve added
2 “weasel clauses” to keep even people in my shoes on the list. 1)
Ultimately, it’s up to the judge. Even if you can PROVE (and had
letters from family, friends, coworkers and employers and the VICTIM
herself stating I’m no threat to anyone, love letters from her, psycho-
sexual evaluations by the therapist, polygraphs, you name it, I had it
done, and they all showed I have no inclination towards molesting
children OR raping women), I met ALL the qualifications under the law,
and my motion was STILL denied. Could it be (in hindsight), that I
filed that motion during an election year, and my judge was running
for re-election? Humn! 2) Uunder the act, once your motion is denied,
you can not re-petition, you can not appeal, you just have to accept
it. My next opportunity is after 25 years from sentencing, at which
time, I will be 43. Forty three, for a minor crime (no pun intended)
committed when I was 18?!? How does that “protect” ANYONE?!?

Now, here’s the flip-side of the coin: my wife and I are about to have
our first child. He is due in a few months. Do I want my future son
protected from pedophiles: of course. Do I want to know where the
pedos live? Of course. But will the law, as it stand protect or harm?
Well first we have the recidivism rate. DOJ studies (amongst others)
have concluded sex offenders have a re-offense rate of 3-15%
(depending on the study- DOJ-5.3%), so the odds of my son being
molested by pedo-Steve down the rd are slim. Studies have also found
(including Karen Terry’s) that 90% of sexual abuse occurs with someone
the victim knows and is in a position of trust with. So odds are he’ld
more likely be molested by some I know than a stranger. So in this
sense, it appears the law won’t help him. But I’ll tell you what will
happen. If I were to get pulled over while my young son is in the car-
you better believe there will be a million and one questions, possibly
traumatizing him. Or how about when my son has a science fair project,
and I can’t attend the big day like other parents, how do I explain
this to him? Or when his friends always ask why they can’t come over
to our place. How is my, let’s just say 10, my 10 year old son explain
this to his friends without ridicule or scorn? This, THIS is what I
spend my time obsessing about, not molesting the next victim as the
LAW, politicians, the media, the vigilantes, antis and nimby’s (not in
my back yard) types would have you believe. Thank you for indulging my
rant. This is a serious topic that needs serious consideration. Forget
“tough on crime”, what we ACTUALLY have is “emotional on crime”, when
it should and needs to be SMART on crime.

Posted by collegeinstructor
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 02:17

Unfortunately, people are ignorant, like “Victim” and they want to categorize all sex offenders in one lump. You can’t do that and have an effective program. Yes, predators need to be monitored but the guy who got drunk and mooned a bus load of high school students does not. The laws are too far reaching, and they are so far from constitutional that is it ridiculous. Victim, I am sorry for what may have happened to you; I was a victim, too. However, I am intelligent enough to know that the laws, as they are now, are not sound laws based upon reality. They are laws based upon ideology and they do little to protect children, or any adult who may be the victim of an offender.

Posted by Victim
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:17

All Sex Offenders Should Get The Death Penalty

Their Victims Live With It For Life

Posted by oncefallendotcom
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:16

We’ve opened Pandora’s Box by passing Megan’s Flaw, and no one wants to step up to stuff those demons back in the box. The public registry has created an environment that actually makes children less safe by creating myths and stymieing rehabilitative efforts. Given the fact 95% of new sex crimes are committed by people with no prior sex offense arrest, what good are these laws?

Posted by Amanda King
Monday, May 09, 2011 11:13

Citizens for Change, America
http://www.cfcamerica.org
Research, Reports, Statistics.. the Truth about all these insane sex offender laws.
LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD!

Posted by cfcamericadotorg
Monday, May 09, 2011 11:12

There are plenty of websites which have gathered the truth behind all the laws called Sex Offender Laws.
All the reports, statistics and special committees have proven and are on record as saying not only does the public shaming of United States Citizens by way of the Public Sex Offender registry fail miserably at protecting society from those who would sexually abuse others, but also, these same laws actually have been proven to HARM HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF INNOCENT CHILDREN OF EX OFFENDERS. Children who have never even contemplated a crime.. simply because their parent is on the registry, these children are banished as lepers by society and their peers… Not to mention the monumental cost to tax payers for laws which do more harm than good… But we all can rest happy knowing YOUR POLITICIANS ARE MAKING A KILLING OFF OF PUSHING FOR TOUGHER SEX OFFENDER LAWS.
Citizens for Change, America.. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD! Simply Google cfcamerica you will find the truth.

Posted by Sex Offender Issues
Monday, May 09, 2011 04:24

http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

Posted by Rudy101
Monday, May 09, 2011 12:56

It comes down to THIS: The legislature does NOT have the power to create a police State through legislative fiat. They passed the registry ex-post facto and then extended time to be on the registry time and time again. They passed restriction after restriction without any evidence of efficacy and give substantial prison time for non-compliance.

There is NO PROOF the registry is doing anything BUT stripping a person of safety and/or security. There are no mechanisms for removing a nondangerous person, or even a mechanism for actually PROVING someone dangerous on ANY standard of proof.

Without any due process hearings, and periodic review your registry lacks complete and utter credibility. No government can force people under a police monitoring system without ANY court supervision.

If you decide anyway that you can pass whatever law you like for people you hate, then it become a RIGHT to flee the registry and do whatever what one can do to avoid your despotic and tyrannical registry.

TCR at a Glance