Sex offenders are among today’s most hated and feared criminals. The contemporary response to this has resulted in specialized laws, referred to as “sex offender legislation.” Although legislation targeting sex offenders in not new to the United States or elsewhere, the policy makers involved in today’s “third wave” of sex offender laws (Terry 2005) are the focus of this current investigation. This wave of U.S. sex offender laws is based on numerous misperceptions about sex offenders and sex offender risk factors, public fear, and the pressure for policy makers to “do something” about this social problem. Thus, this research attempts to reconcile the facts of sex offender science against the views of lawmakers. Is there a disconnect between empiricism and policy maker perceptions?

  • 61 legislators were interviewed, at least one from each state, 65% admitted to “policy being written due to high profile cases” some not even within the jurisdiction of their own state. Most of the legislation was written from a few high profile cases.
  • The majority of lawmakers believed their sex offender laws were working. Still, nearly 4 out of 10 respondents held differing opinions. What is consistent across the categories, however, is the fact that almost all of the responses relied on anecdotal examples rather than empirical evidence to ground their positions. When “evidence” was offered to support a policy maker’s opinion, he or she typically referred to legislative testimony offered by state-level criminal justice practitioners (e.g., police chiefs, district attorneys, administrators with departments of corrections or probation and parole, etc.,) or state agency reports from these same departments. Often, policy makers were aware of this shortcoming and suggested that it be rectified, although they were unable to suggest remedies.
  • 44% of the policy makers interviewed saw overly broad sex offender laws as a problem.
  • Nearly 2 in 10 respondents felt some negative and unintended consequences with regard to limits and restrictions as to where they can live, work or be physically present.
  • Influential elected officials have a host of ideas and perceptions about this type of crime and offender, but these views are often not based on science. Research such as this could help transform “shoot-from-the-hip” policy making into “informed policy making” by integrating scientific outcomes into legal responses. Patty Wetterling, Mother of Jacob Wetterling in which a law was named after, has said as recently as March 2013,” … that the registry is doing more harm than good.” http://www.citypages.com/2013-03-20/news/patty-wetterling-questions-sex-offender-laws.
  • Cost to Missouri vs. Credible Research

According to the NCMEC,

http://www. missingkids.com/…/docu…/Sex_Offenders _Map.pdf, there are over 843,680men, women and children on national registries. When you consider the registrable offenses, the law enforcement and office staff expenses associated with monitoring and tracking, as well as the length of time the state of Missouri has committed one has to wonder what empirical evidence supports this valiant effort. There is none! However, there is credible research advising low recidivism rates.

T.J. Madison, Member of Women Against Registry, talked about, “Other things impacting costs are Probation & Parole as well as incarceration and went on to say the U.S. is 5% of the world’s population AND 25% of the world’s incarcerated.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, 5.3% of American sex offenders are rearrested for a new sex crime within three years with only 3.5% being convicted. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003).

Per the Justice Research & Statistics Association (http://www.jrsa.org/). A study of recidivism rates for 2,493 sex offenders released from prison in 9 states in 2001, concludes in a 3-year follow-up study of recidivism rates: AK 3.4%, AZ 2.3%, DE 3.8%, IL.2.4%, IA 3.9%, ANM 1.8%, SC 4%, TN 0%, UT 9%.

Policy makers and the public need to be better educated on the science of sexual violence and sexual offending. For instance, one seldom-disputed fact is that most sex crimes ~ especially against children ~ occur between individuals who know one another, reside together, is an acquaintance or have access to the children. Yet policy makers and the public tend to view strangers as posing the greatest situation to rectify through legislative means. Is this why it is missing from the public discourse?

With the publications of numerous studies and empirical research, Women Against Registry is calling for legislators to repeal laws that are creating more harm than good. We are calling on our trusted leaders to become familiar with the current scientific research before writing legislation. We are “Pushing Back” against laws that were written out of fear and the unfortunate loss of a few well publicized national cases.

Women Against Registry asserts that we, as a society, should be more pro-active and less re-active. For example, the outcome of the Maryville, Missouri case was abhorrent to some and viewed as justice served by others. The process that was followed by the prosecutors and law enforcement should be that of all sexual cases; which is based on all the facts to be thoroughly reviewed with an appropriate judgment given.

Women Against Registry
Fighting the Destruction of Families

Contact: Vicki Henry, President
Women Against Registry
Support Line: 800-773-4319

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