Do Sex Offender Registries Do Anything to Prevent Recidivism?
Date:  02-26-2015

Research says “no,” so why aren’t we providing a more effective solution to reoffending?
Paul Heroux, who worked in corrections before becoming a State Representative in Massachusetts thought subscribers to Reentry Central might like to read his article on sex offender registries that was published in the Huffington Post on February 24. Reentry Central thinks it makes some valid arguments about the effectiveness of sex offender registries.

The topic of people who have been convicted of a sex crime is often ignored in reentry roundtables and in discussions about criminal justice reform. And when the topic is discussed, as witnessed by Reentry Central staff, some of the most ardent supporters of criminal justice reform are fierce in their proclamations that reform is needed now, except when it comes to those who commit a crime of a sexual nature.

Sex offender registries are almost universally revered as a way to prevent people with a past history of committing a sex crime from committing another one. Heroux, who makes it clear he is not “pro sex offender,” disagrees with this assumption, believing much more can be done to prevent reoffending than putting someone’s name on a list. Do Sex Offender Registries Reduce Recidivism?

By Paul Heroux

No. Or at least that is what the empirical evidence and research on this issue shows. But that doesn't mean we should not have them. The fact is that the registries don't really do anything to improve public safety. They just make people feel safer and in control; unfortunately this is a false sense of security. Why Don't Registries Reduce Recidivism?

There is no reason to believe that a registry is going to do anything to reduce re-offending because registries don't address what drives someone to commit a sex crime. Put another way, sex offender registries probably don't work because they miss the mark on what works and what does not. Registries don't really address the behavior of sex offenders.

First of all, not all sex offenders are the same and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Sex offender is a category of criminal offending. It is not a homogenous group. Pedophiles are very different than someone guilty of a drunken rape, and both are very different than someone who is guilty of statutory rape. And then there are many more types of sex offenders. The way each type thinks is different. The likelihood of reoffending is different. The effectiveness and utility of treatment is very different for each. There is nothing to suggest that there is one solution to all these different problems. Second, registries and community notification do not do anything to change the behavior of the sex offender. It is only useful in letting the public know who previously offended and where they live. With the exception of pedophiles and perhaps a serial rapist, past behavior does not really predict future behavior with most sex offenders, of which many are not pedophiles or serial rapists. Contrary to popular perceptions, considering that sex offender recidivism is very low, we would not expect that past behavior to predict future behavior.

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