The Effects of Sex Offenders Registry

Subject: Law
Type: Evaluation Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2124
Topics: Injustice, Crime, Justice, Sexual Harassment, Social Issues

Table of Contents


Within the past two decades, many laws have been introduced by the federal legislatures and the state in an attempt to deter sexual violence. Sex offender notification and registration is one of the many amendments that target sex offending. Notification involves releasing some details on sex offenders to the citizens. The main purpose of publication notification is to enable the community to protect themselves from sex offenders. It is estimated that sex predators under the watchful eye of the public will not commit offense but in case they do, it will be easy to truck them down. In registration, the sex offenders have to register with law enforcement and continually update their personal data including the place of residence, the employment status and more relevant details. The main purpose of introducing the sex offender registration law was to help the authorities keep track of prominent sex offenders and help them in investigating new allegations laid upon them. This paper aims to evaluate the effectiveness of Sex offenders Registry in deterring crime.

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The federal government enacted laws towards sexual offenses. The Jacob Watterling Act enacted in 1994 required the states to enact and maintain registries for sex offenders. The law was named after an 11-year-old boy who was abducted back in 1989 and his where about are unknown to date.  Jacob’s parents suspected an ex-convict of sexual offense to have taken their boy. They, as a result, advocated for laws that would allow for law enforcers to track known offenders so that can be easily apprehended if need be. The 1996 Megan’s Law amendment needed the states to come up with a system in which they release data about sex offenders to the public (Levanson,, 55). This law was implemented after the murder of Megan Kankan by a known sex offender in New Jersey. The Pam Lychner Sexual Offenders Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 brought up a plan to put in place a nationwide registry that prevented offenders from escaping registration my relocating from one state to the other. States were mandated to come up with a social media platform in which the public could details about sex offenders by the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003. These versions of federal laws gave a foundation to the states to implement notification and registration laws. The states were now at liberty to determine which offenders to be registered and publicly notified, choose a mode for notification, and the period for registration and notification. Almost all states notified the public about predatory offenders who committed sexual violence against strangers and repeat offenders. The state of Carolina released the details of almost all sexual offenders without considering whether they pose a threat in the future or not. 

Little studies are published showing that notification or registration policies protect children against abuse or minimize sex offense recidivism. Of the few publications available most show that notification doesn’t result to any significant reduction in recidivism. A comparison was made in Washington in the recidivism rate of 90 high-risk sex offenders to other 90 similar offenders who were released before the policies were installed (Shoothill, 178). There were no found statistical significant variations between the 2 groups. The offenders that were publicly listed were easy to arrest as compared to the previous lot. Another survey was conducted in Iowa among 201 sex offenders who were not registered since they were convicted before the enactments and other 203 who were registered. Among the unregistered offenders, about 3 percent were reconvicted as compared to only 1 percent of the registered sex offenders. These figures are not statistically significant as t the offenders were monitored for a period averaging to 4.3 years. A study in Wisconsin the recidivism rate was at 16 percent among 47 high-risk offenders who were notified to the public and 12 percent rate in 166 high-risk offenders who not listed to the public. This still shows insignificant differences statistically. Another examination was done by a times-series in ten states in America and the results were no significant reduction rate in recidivism even after the implantation of the registry and the notification policies.  

Most Americans support Megan’s Law as a safety measure to their existence. The citizens believe that released sex offenders are highly likely to commit another crime and the public should know about their details (Levansons,, 55). Some studies show that notifications only increase anxiety in some people since they don’t have measures to protect themselves against sex offenders while others studies say that citizens feel safe when they know the residences of the potential offenders. Most mental health professionals have doubts that that child sexual abuse can be prevented by notifications and registrations, which instead lie to the parents that their children are safe. But at the end of the day, most people are in support of public notifications. Legal scholars are putting many arguments towards public notifications. They claim that the notifications violate the constitution as far as privacy rights are concerned; they have potential for drastic consequences and ex-post factor treatment in the society. A legal case was filed to challenge the Connecticut policy on internet registry citing that sex offenders should only be listed on the registry after the court has made a ruling on the danger they pose to the community. In Alaska, a case argued that the notification and registration of offenders convicted before the enactment of the laws resulted in ex-post factor punishments. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the new policies which allowed for registration and notifications. The Connecticut case, in particular, was crucial in allowing for a widespread dissemination of the data entailed in the registration to the public. 

The deterrence of sexual offense is mainly attributed to the perception of punishment and detection. There are cases where the fear of social consequences is equal or heavier than the fear of legal consequences and this increases the level of deterrence. According to documented research, when a person is known publicly as sex offender, they face several risks which may include social sanctions such as loss of spouses, friends and jobs, loss of social standing and respect (Elizabeth,, 346). There is enough evidence to support the above consequences to the families of adult offenders. There are surveys conducted in some regions such as Connecticut, New Jersey and Kansas among many, showing that the offenders have difficulty in finding Jobs, loss of relationships, property damage, physical assault, housing disruptions, harassment and threats. Sex offenders report psychosocial stressors such as hopelessness, depression, embarrassment and shame due to public exposure. A survey conducted among affected 584 families across the United States revealed that they are affected by the law on public notification. The families said that loss of employment which results in financial hardship afterward is the major issue they face. Some children of sex offenders report stigmatization and harassment at school from classmates and teachers. This motivates the potential sex offenders to avoid registrations public notifications and social sanctions which may lead to deterrence generally. 

According to recent research on sex offenders, criminals that are convicted of sexual crimes are now being subjected to more punitive restrictions and surveillance compared to other crimes. About 800, 000 citizens in the United States are under the register as sex offenders (Burchfield,, 368). There are those who are working as surveillance experts for these criminals and making a dime out of it. Black men are being convicted at twice rate as compared to the white men, a situation similar to all other crimes. There is inequality in sex offenders’ registry as about one percent of the black populations are convicted sex offenders.  The prison population in the United States is reducing while the rate of conviction of sex offenders is on the rise. More than 24 % of the offenders were registered between 2013 and 2005. Most state laws are retroactive. This is an implication that the policies apply to criminals who were convicted before the policies were put in place. Therefore most sex offenders end up being punished for crimes they committed as far as 30 years back. The law requires that the offenders are publicly notified. For instance, the state runs listings on the search engines that feature the offender’s demographic information, mugshot, criminal history and the address. There are times when sex offenders are required to advertise their residency in the newspaper or post their flayers publicly showing their photos. In Louisiana, sex offenders have their driving license stamped in large red script.     

Jonathan Simon, a punishment scholar claims that the increase in the number of sex offenders’ registry is an effort by drafters of the law to govern crime (Sothhill, 180). The lawmakers assert their authority by creating fear of crime and enforcing order. On the other hand, politicians secure authority by encouraging public safety net and social welfare agenda. Lawmakers see sex offenders as a potential threat in the future; therefore they use more stringent measures. The lawmakers believe that if the public is aware of the criminals’ history, they will be more careful around them. The United States department dealing with sentencing Sex offenders says that apprehending, tracking notes, registration and sentencing have been carried out without empirical evidence. At present, however, there is evidence being developed within the 50 states of the United States as well as the Washington DC to test the effectiveness of the Registries.

One study conducted on potential reoffenders released in the late 1910s from Wisconsin Prison had some interesting findings. The study made a comparison between sex offenders who were extensively listed in the public registry with those exposed to limited requirements. The research reported no significant difference in the time needed averagely for future crime (Burchfield,, 356). This means that extensive public notification was not that effective. Another follow up done on potential reoffenders released from Minnesota state prison, showed that that sex offender subjected to public notification were less likely to commit a crime. A third example is a survey done on sex offenders were convicted in Florida. The survey was done between 1990 and 2010. It showed that there are lower rates of recidivism for sex offenders as compared to other criminals. For nonsex offenses, the rate was at 8.3 percent and 6.5 percent for sex offenses while drug offenses were the highest with 29.8 percent. After the implementation of the sex offense registration in 1997, the recidivism rates increased according to this study. 

There are mixed pieces of evidence that registrations are effective at solving sex crimes. The only clear outcome is the effects they have on the offender’s life after serving the jail term which is reinforced class inequality which comes about due to lack of employment, homelessness and harassment (Elizabeth,, 342). Scholars say that the confidence the registry restore among the public about their security is false. The registries warn the society of strangers as the potential sexual predators while the close acquaintances like the family members are more likely to rob them of their sexual sacredness. One scholar recently compared the effects of the registries both negative and positive and found out that more damage is done as opposed to the benefits. There is also some evidence that some registries are biased in terms of race, gender and class. These are some of the factors that contribute to the in the effectiveness of the registries to solve crime. 

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There is not enough evidence to determine exhaustively the effects of registries of sex offenders to the community. There should have been more research done before implementation of the law guiding sexual offenders’ registries. This way the unintended consequences to the offenders and their families could have been avoided. Despite evidence showing that these policies achieved their stated goals, they have been widely supported. As discussed above, sex offenders go through experiences that have deleterious consequences on their physical, economic and social well-being. Many agree that the social and economic marginalization of sex offenders and other criminals go against the principle that a successful community should be associated with. Widespread notification of sex offenders sometimes worsens the situation instead of protecting the public which they are intended for. There are theories arguing that the offenders are able to rehabilitate only if they have a strong bond to the society and they see the sanctions as being fair. A lot of sex offenders feel that Megan’s Law has little effect on them. Therefore, such laws as Megan’s should be restated in such a way that they achieve the intended goals and offenders should feel that they are fair so as to be effective.  

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  1. Burchfield, Keri B., and William Mingus. “Not in my neighborhood: Assessing registered sex offenders’ experiences with local social capital and social control.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 35.3 (2008): 356-374.
  2. Levenson, Jill S., and Leo P. Cotter. “The effect of Megan’s Law on sex offender reintegration.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21.1 (2005): 49-66.
  3. Mustaine, Elizabeth Ehrhardt, Richard Tewksbury, and Kenneth M. Stengel. “Social disorganization and residential locations of registered sex offenders: Is this a collateral consequence?.” Deviant Behavior 27.3 (2006): 329-350.
  4. Soothill, Keith. “Sex offender recidivism.” Crime and justice 39.1 (2010): 145-211.
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