Fear without Function: Do Sex Offender Registries Reduce Crime?

by on August 15, 2011 at 7:33 am in Data Source, Economics, Law | Permalink

Sex offender registries contain a disturbing amount of information about sex offenders. The Washington DC, registry, for example, provides photos of sex offenders and will map their homes and workplaces down to the block level. The CA registry includes photos and maps unique home addresses. In some states, neighbors are notified by telephone when a registered sex offender moves into the neighborhood.

Sex offenders are often also highly restricted on where they can work and live–so much so, that in some states they have been effectively banished. In CA, sex offenders must be monitored via GPS for life. Many states allow sex offenders to be kept in prison past their sentences, based only on a judge’s opinion that the sex offender might commit a future crime. Bear in mind that teenagers having sex with other teenagers, hiring or trying to hire a prostitute and even streaking can make a person fall under the sex offender statutes. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, sex offenders have low recidivism rates, much lower than for most other crimes.

Why the obsessive focus on sex crimes? I see it as coming from deep and primitive feelings and fears about sex, after all we don’t have homicide registries. At least not yet. Sex offender registries, however, may be the thin end of the wedge. How long will it be before we require monitoring of all convicted criminals? Will we soon wear augmented reality spectacles that list the criminal history of individuals as they pass by on the street (and perhaps also their credit ranking?). Is this really a good idea? At the very least, it’s important to know whether these laws deter crime and if so whether they are cost effective. Two new papers in the Journal of Law and Economics examine these issues.

J.J. Prescott and Jonah Rockoff find that registries can have a modest deterrent effect on crime but that notification laws can increase recidivism. Notification laws and other such punishments can increase recidivism because they make it much harder for registered offenders to find a job and reintegrate into society.

I especially like Amanda Agan’s paper Sex Offender Registries: Fear without Function?. Agan writes:

I find little evidence to support the effectiveness of sex offender registries, either in practice or in potential. Rates of sex offense do not decline after the introduction of a registry or public access to a registry via the Internet, nor do sex offenders appear to recidivate less when released into states with registries. The data from Washington, D.C., indicate that census blocks with more offenders do not experience statistically significantly higher rates of sexual abuse, which implies that there is little information one can infer from knowing that a sex offender lives on one’s block.

Agan’s paper is unusual in that it uses three different datasets and a variety of empirical strategies. It also makes clever use of geocoded crime data and the aforementioned sex offender home and work addresses from the DC registry.

Full Disclosure: Agan’s paper was written, under my direction, when she was an undergraduate at George Mason University. Amanda is now nearing her graduation from the PhD economics program at the University of Chicago.

dearieme August 15, 2011 at 7:45 am

Why not send them to Alaska? The cold climate should moderate their lusts, don’t you think, and there must be a good chance that the grizzlies and polar bears will eat ‘em.

And having dealt with the lawmakers, we must then work out how to deal with the sex criminals.

dan1111 August 15, 2011 at 8:40 am

Thumbs up.

Ken Rhodes August 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

Dearie, that’s one of the best punch lines of the year. TWO thumbs up.

Yancey Ward August 15, 2011 at 11:20 am

LMAO!

anon August 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm

As a non-native English speaker I cannot understand the joke. Will someone help please?

A leap at the wheel August 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Sure – the use of “Why not send them to Alaska?” makes the reader think that “them” is the sex offender. The article is about how we treat sex offenders, so when the first comment is about a punishment, it tricks the reader into thinking the punishment should be for the sex offender.

When you get to the bottom, you discover the “them” is actually the politicians who voted for laws that cause a lot of problems and don’t fix anything.

Chotawchic August 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

It’s the American equivalent to Russia “sending them to Siberia”, back when Russian was The Evil Empire and had the world’s largest prison population.

Only when OTHER countries do things like that, It’s bad. When America does it, it’s cool. Soon we will have those accused of sex crimes wearing pink triangles on their clothes and patting ourselves on the back for thinking up such a wonderful solution to our sex offender problem.

False accusations will also land people on sex offender registries, and false accusations are epidemic – just ask any man facing divorce court.

Scoop August 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm

This would also provide an alternate food source for the polar bears, so they wouldn’t have to brave thinning ice in search of seals.

AndrewL August 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

I find the sex offender registry argument interesting, but the slippery slope argument wit the augmented reality glasses and the credit scores is a little over the top.

Obviously there is a difference between teenagers having sex and child molesters. I think families would like to know if a convicted child molester is living near their child’s school so at the very least they can tell their children to not accept candy from this person. Also what is the recidivism rate for child molesters? I bet it would be higher than the average for sex offenders because child molesting is more of a psychological problem rather than just bad judgement.

Andrew' August 15, 2011 at 8:09 am

One problem with the registry is that it is cluttered with people who shouldn’t be on it. As is the case with so many things, probably it doesn’t work because we are doin’ it wrong.

AndrewL August 15, 2011 at 9:50 am

I totally agree. How do we know where to draw the lines? I would like to see a study that addresses that.

M. Dutton August 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

As a parent I would like to know if someone convicted of assault or robbery moves into the neighborhood to protect my kids from muggings.

As a parent I would like to know if someone convicted of drug dealing moves into my neighborhood to protect my kids from drugs.

What’s the difference?

Joe Bar August 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm

And when you know, then what? Would you punish that convict further by picketing his/her house or preventing them from finding gainful employment?

Whe not just bring back the Galleys?

Frank Youell August 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm

AndrewL,

“Also what is the recidivism rate for child molesters?”

It’s quite high. Probably 50%+ over 25 years. See https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/163390.pdf. See also http://www.csom.org/pubs/recidsexof.html. I quote

“One method of dealing with this problem is to examine recidivism studies of specific types of sex offenders. This approach is warranted, given the established base rate differences across types of sex offenders. (Recent research suggests that many offenders have histories of assaulting across genders and age groups, rather than against only one specific victim population. Researchers in a 1999 study (Ahlmeyer, English, and Simons) found that, through polygraph examinations, the number offenders who “crossed over” age groups of victims is extremely high. The study revealed that before polygraph examinations, 6 percent of a sample of incarcerated sex offenders had both child and adult victims, compared to 71 percent after polygraph exams. Thus, caution must be taken in placing sex offenders in exclusive categories.) Marshall and Barbaree (1990) found in their review of studies that the recidivism rate for specific types of offenders varied:

Incest offenders ranged between 4 and 10 percent.
Rapists ranged between 7 and 35 percent.
Child molesters with female victims ranged between 10 and 29 percent.
Child molesters with male victims ranged between 13 and 40 percent.
Exhibitionists ranged between 41 and 71 percent”

The authors point out that all of these estimates may be low. Polygraph data indicates that sex offenders are very active. I quote

“Several studies support the hypothesis that sexual offense recidivism rates are underreported. Marshall and Barbaree (1990) compared official records of a sample of sex offenders with “unofficial” sources of data. They found that the number of subsequent sex offenses revealed through unofficial sources was 2.4 times higher than the number that was recorded in official reports. In addition, research using information generated through polygraph examinations on a sample of imprisoned sex offenders with fewer than two known victims (on average), found that these offenders actually had an average of 110 victims and 318 offenses (Ahlmeyer, Heil, McKee, and English, 2000). Another polygraph study found a sample of imprisoned sex offenders to have extensive criminal histories, committing sex crimes for an average of 16 years before being caught (Ahlmeyer, English, and Simons, 1999).”

Chotawchic August 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

I can post Department Of Justice and state sponsored studies that refute “high recidivism rates” all day long – I invite anyone reading this to go to the trouble of doing some research to educate yourself, and not accept “Frank’s” statement here.

Recidivism rates are high for one small subset of sex offenders, and one only – the homosexual male offender who preys on little boys. All others, particularly incest offenders, are VERY low.

Bottom line – over 90% of sex crimes are committed by those NOT on a registry. Over 90% of sex crimes are committed by family or aquaintances trusted by the child. So while you are fretting and sweating over sex offenders pictured on the internet, Aunt Cindi is molesting your kids (when I confronted her with my suspicions, she in turn falsely accused my teen aged son who is now on a sex offender registry while she is free to molest other children. The System doesn’t like to aknowledge FEMALE sex offenders. Don’t worry – female sex offences are considered “harmless”.)

Or an ex wife is coaching the kiddies to accuse Daddy.
Or a High School Senior is “in love” with a Freshman.

Laugh it off all you want – you just may find YOURSELF accused, which is a REAL education. First, you’ll learn the Constitution and Due Process has been abandoned in child accusation cases (oh, yes, look it up) and secondly, there is nothing but “Frank” style misinformation and political grandstanding not seen since the Commie Scares.

Do the research. You’ll find out for yourself “Frank” is spreading boogie man stories, while the REAL boogie man is waiting to put YOU on a registry.

oncefallendotcom August 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Any study that relies on the junk science of polygraphs is invalidated. No other study replicates the Ahlmeyer study. You also must recognize the term “recidivism” does not always imply the registrant commits a new sex crime. Studies can include rearrests for other things like probation violations or failure to register. In some cases, a registrant has an item otherwise legal to own, like a Playboy magazine, but because of his status, is arrested for a “sex crime.”

There is one factor people fail to consider– cultural influences play a role in statistics, and there will be a small subset of people who use statistics to promote an agenda. Certain studies have focused on that very narrow subset of serial sex offenders and apply that across the board. However, that is a very small subset. Even FBI pedophile specialist Ken Lanning attests to that.

The vast majority of recidivism research has consistently found low recidivism rates which have remained stable since Megan’s Flaw was implemented.

Shelomith Stow August 19, 2011 at 8:25 am

Anything that relies on polygraphs for validation can be discounted with no further thought. There is a reason they are not permissible in court as evidence.

Amy Gibbons August 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

The recidivism rate is less than 5% according to the Department of Justice and lower for sex offenders who have had treatment. Also, when a sex offender goes to trial it is highly unlikely, especially in the county where I live, that he can defend against the accusations brought up against him or her. In the case I am thinking of it took seven years for the falsehoods to come to light. The victim was 13 and under investigation which he was later convicted of for violent sexual assault with a screwdriver. He was looking for a way to lighten his own sentence. So he made up a story. But he was a “child”.

Pragmaticon August 15, 2011 at 8:08 am

Thought that Prescott was Ed Prescott at first and thought “… the hell is this”

Stuart Buck August 15, 2011 at 8:20 am

RoCkoff.

Mike August 15, 2011 at 8:39 am

In NY, the registry recognizes three levels of sex offenders, with the highest-risk group being comprised of people who are legitimately pretty scary, based on their prior convictions.

I think the registry serves at least one important function – I’ve found that people are usually quite surprised when they discover just how many of these highest-level offenders live in their areas. Most folks have no idea how common sex crimes are, especially crimes against children who are related to the offender.

Does it help prevent crime? Probably not. Worthwhile? I think no. But interesting, nonetheless.

Jim August 15, 2011 at 8:39 am

>Sex offender registries contain a disturbing amount of information about sex offenders.

Yeah — what they look like and where they live. How horrifying. If the point is to alert people about dangerous criminals nearby, what else would you have them include? A short description and an area code?

>Many states allow sex offenders to be kept in prison past their sentences, based only on a judge’s opinion that the sex offender might commit a future crime.

That’s because the recidivism rate is very high for certain offenders, and there really is no possible way to treat them. You can’t just shut off someone’s sex drive. Nor can you tell them not to be attracted to children anymore. You can lock them up, or you can castrate them. Pick one. Naturally our feeble Government picks “Turn them loose and have a cumbersome, hole-filled tracking program which bored bloggers can be self-righteous about.”

>Bear in mind that teenagers having sex with other teenagers…

Yes, now you are getting somewhere. The problem here is careless Government.

>Why the obsessive focus on sex crimes?

The obsessive focus is on the ones that go after children. Which, unlike murderers, is really quite a lot of them. It should not be challenging to understand this focus, which has nothing to do with sex at all.

The tracking program is a good thing, and a rare example of the Government showing some kind of concern for the people it supposedly is protecting. Naturally if it were really concerned, it would keep these people locked up, but that’s just asking far too much in a world where prison guards retire at 46 with free health care for life.

Andrew' August 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

How do you go through jot and tittle of how the government jacks up everything they get involved in and then conclude that it’s a good thing? It’s a serious question.

I have no interest in information on the kids down the street, the guy who molests his daughter (I’m not that guy and my daughter isn’t his daughter), etc. If the government is incapable of tracking the people they are supposed to (assuming they shouldn’t already be in jail if we know who and where they are), then why is having a fatally flawed tracking program a good thing?

Peter August 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm

>>Sex offender registries contain a disturbing amount of information about sex offenders.

>Yeah — what they look like and where they live. How horrifying. If the point is to alert people about dangerous criminals nearby, what else would you have them include? A short description and an area code?

The problem here is that many people engage in criminal harassment and assault against people listed on the registry, and use the information thereon to do so.

>>Many states allow sex offenders to be kept in prison past their sentences, based only on a judge’s opinion that the sex offender might commit a future crime.

>That’s because the recidivism rate is very high for certain offenders, and there really is no possible way to treat them. You can’t just shut off someone’s sex drive. Nor can you tell them not to be attracted to children anymore. You can lock them up, or you can castrate them. Pick one. Naturally our feeble Government picks “Turn them loose and have a cumbersome, hole-filled tracking program which bored bloggers can be self-righteous about.”

The recidivism rate is very low though. That’s the point of the study. Also, punishing someone past their sentence is unconstitutional, as it is an ex-post-facto law, banned by Article 1, Sec. 9 of the US Constitution.

>>Bear in mind that teenagers having sex with other teenagers…

>Yes, now you are getting somewhere. The problem here is careless Government.

I agree.

>>Why the obsessive focus on sex crimes?

>The obsessive focus is on the ones that go after children. Which, unlike murderers, is really quite a lot of them. It should not be challenging to understand this focus, which has nothing to do with sex at all.

>The tracking program is a good thing, and a rare example of the Government showing some kind of concern for the people it supposedly is protecting. Naturally if it were really concerned, it would keep these people locked up, but that’s just asking far too much in a world where prison guards retire at 46 with free health care for life.

But many/most crimes that land you on the sex offender registry don’t go after children. Consensual underage sex, streaking, teenagers sending each other nude photos or sexy text messages, for example. These “crimes” are much more common than rape.

Amy Gibbons August 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

Megan’s Law, the Adam Walsh Act are full of ex post facto phrases that are under review by the supreme courts of the various states. Ohio being one where their law was thrown out and now has to be rewritten. What the registry has done is given the vigilantes information for their “revenge” actions even though no one they know has been harmed by a sex offender. Innocent people have been murdered, beaten, run out of their homes, harassed, and their homes burned. Mistaken identities because of the registry. They have taken the law into their own hands even when people have served their time but their families and friends do not deserve punishment from anyone.

Chotawchic August 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

Jim – that “rare concern” comes with a HUGE price tag. Do you not know that politicians are heavily invested in GPS system companies? Read about the Orrin Hatch/Ed Smart ( yes, little kidnapped Elizabeth’s father) investing in Trackerpal company.

Megan’s law would not have saved Megan. Her parents already knew sex offenders lived on the block. GPS would not have saved Elizabeth Smart – her kidnapper was not a convicted criminal of any sort. Adam Walsh was not a sex offender case, yet his celebrity victim parents have made millions, and have millions more to make from his death. His father claims his sexual deviancies were “cured” but no other sexual deviancies can be. Does that REALLY ring true? Jessica’s law ended up almost ensnaring her brother – he escaped the registry only because his father was leading the political $ agenda to register those who committed the same crime he did. The Adam Walsh Act was passed in secret session, promoted by Mark Foley – who later was “outted” sending sexual Emails to white house pages.

But sex offenders registries are such FUN since we aren’t “allowed” to hate black or gays anymore. They fill the “allowed” hate void since hate crime legislation does not apply to “them”. Sex offenders have been murdered, assaulted, their homes burned, their wives an pets murdered – all thanks to the sex offender hit list, I mean registry.

oncefallendotcom August 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm

This is the typical political mentality– this doesn’t work, we take it too far, the Government system is feeble, but its a GOOD thing. How’s that kool-aid tasting?

You need to do a little research. The government doesn’t care about people by passing feel-good, do-nothing laws.

John Mansfield August 15, 2011 at 8:50 am

Without sex offender registries, the rest of us wouldn’t be able to feel morally adequate by not being registered.

Steve the hyena August 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm

+1

Andrew' August 15, 2011 at 8:58 am

Here is what I would like. I’d like there to be zero information available to me, but I can carry a thingy like Frodo’s orc sword that glows brighter the more/closer actual predators are.

Rahul August 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Actually, the principle doesn’t seem so bad really. What if the registries had some sort of fuzzy block level metric that served as a general warning rather than identify the exact offender?

Parents would still warn their children but in a general sense rather than against a specific person.

Maxim August 15, 2011 at 9:07 am

Not too surprised about the registries not having much effect – my guess is that the GPS monitoring would have significantly more bite. Registries rely on a diffuse ‘heightened awareness of possible pedophiles’ persisting. If the tracking is sufficiently fine-grained to be able to place them at the scene of a crime, it’ll sharply change the prospects for re-offending (conditional on enforcement being relatively swift and certain! Mark KIeiman etc…)

What’s the value of a statistical child molestation avoided? I don’t know, but I’m more sympathetic to overestimates than underestimates.

Bob Knaus August 15, 2011 at 9:10 am

In Miami, restrictions on where sex offenders could live led to a colony of them under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Tuttle_Causeway_sex_offender_colony

The colony was on a spoil island, in the middle of Biscayne Bay, and was one of the few places outside the restricted radii. Another possibility would have been the swampland bordering Everglades National Park.

When I was much younger, a series of accidents led the County Commission to ban all ice cream trucks within a 1-mile radius of any school. This had a similar effect, with the only legal area for ice cream trucks to operate being the swamps.

rpl August 15, 2011 at 9:11 am

Why the obsessive focus on sex crimes?

You already know the answer to that, Alex. It’s because the general public, being shockingly ignorant about politics and government in general, suppose that “sex offenders” are all child molesters. Look at the comments already posted, and despair as you reflect that these people are probably moderately better informed than the typical voter. One such bright spark even opines (incorrectly) that “The obsessive focus is on the ones that go after children,” despite the fact that you gave three examples of crimes that don’t involve molesting children in any way, but which nevertheless earn the offender an opportunity to be persecuted just the same as if he did.

On the other hand, the obsessiveness of the “obsessive focus” means that we are unlikely to the same treatment extended to other crimes, let alone credit histories. People just don’t get as worked up about, say, tax evaders as they do about (people they imagine to be) child molesters. I would also expect police and prosecutors to oppose making that sort of history generally available because it would make their job harder. Who would ever plead out if every conviction carried with it lifetime pariah status? You might as well fight every charge to the bitter end.

dan1111 August 15, 2011 at 9:33 am

You have quoted Jim’s comment quite unfairly. Far from being ignorant of the law’s broad scope, he acknowledges and criticizes this. “The obsessive focus is on the ones that go after children” is a statement about the motives behind the law, not about its effect as poorly implemented.

Rather than inaccurately accusing him of being ignorant, why don’t you respond to his arguments? He makes a good case that the law is justified for serious offenders.

Andrew' August 15, 2011 at 10:17 am

“justified for serious offenders”

And yet completely undone by including everything else. It’s like going to your financial advisor and asking him for a list of stocks to provide safety. He hands you the S&P 500 and says “they are in there.”

dan1111 August 15, 2011 at 10:38 am

I think most people here agree that the inclusion of minor offenders is a problem. However, there are options other than “keep the status quo” and “throw out the whole system.” Some people don’t seem to acknowledge that.

Andrew' August 15, 2011 at 10:50 am

I’m not sure those aren’t the only options. We went from not having an offender registry to having one that is jacked up. If there was a middle option called: “the makes some common sense option” why weren’t we given that one to begin with?

dan1111 August 15, 2011 at 11:47 am

How hard, really, would it be to define a list of serious crimes that warrant inclusion on the registry?

Also: if something is broken now, that is proof that it is unfixable? I’m sure there are lots of answers to “why weren’t we given that one to begin with?” that don’t involve creating a general principle that nothing can ever get better.

Rahul August 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Another good change would be some sort of time decay on the registry. If a guy committed an offence and was clean, say, 4 years from the release date how likely is it that he’s going to wait and offend the moment he was off the list? Lifetime registration seems overkill for all offenders.

Attorney at Flaw August 15, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I’m going to have to side with A’ on this. It’s a lot easier to lose an election because your opponent paints you as “soft on crime” than it is to lose one for being “too hard on crime.” I think that’s why these registeries only get more and more inclusive. I doubt they will ever go away, however.

rpl August 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Dan, if people are obsessively focused only on the “ones that go after children,” then why do sex offender laws encompass so many non-serious offenses in the first place? Why is there so much resistance to scaling them back to cover only the serious offenses? Why does the scope of these laws keep expanding to include more and more offenses, and why do we allow some offenses (not involving child molestation, I remind you) to be retroactively classified as sex offenses and the corresponding penalties applied after the offender has already served his court-appointed sentence? None of these facts are consistent with Jim’s (and your?) claim that these laws are focused on the child predators. Indeed, when you look at the facts of sex offender laws, that claim seems positively laughable, which, to answer your question, is why I didn’t respond to it.

Now, let me ask you a question. Where is all of the support for these laws coming from, if not from a general populace that believes it is somehow fighting child abuse? It’s possible that you and Jim are among the few that recognize how flawed these laws really are, but what you’ve written here doesn’t really convey that. Jim’s glib dismissal of the innocent victims of these laws is particularly offensive. On the whole, I think “ignorant” is a charitable description.

8 August 15, 2011 at 9:15 am

Why the obsessive focus on sex crimes? There are two big reasons. The first is it’s dealing with children and it’s the same reason there are helmet laws, zero tolerance at schools, etc. The other is radical feminism, which sees all sex as rape. Clearly, they’ve might quite a lot of progress, now that sexual relations between sexually mature adults now earns one the same moniker as a person who sexually molests prepubescent children. I would argue both are probably the result of women becoming more involved in politics, they tend to favor heavy handed solutions and are more focused on children’s issues. The culture has changed too, I noticed that 50-year old actor married that “16-year old” country singer, and a lot of commenters around the web called the guy a pedophile…so most people do not understand what the word means.

Cliff August 15, 2011 at 11:40 am

That phenomenon is a troubling one to me. I would assume that just about every man would be attracted to a beautiful 16-year-old (adult) female, so by calling someone who marries (!) a 16-year-old a pedophile, you are basically calling every man a pedophile. It might be considered socially inappropriate, but it is the opposite of pedophilia.

Rick Stewart August 15, 2011 at 9:25 am

Another way to become a sex offender – urinate in public (possibly after drinking) and get charged with indecent exposure.

My parsimonious father always urinated in our backyard before entering the house at night, to avoid wasting water flushing the toilet, however there is no credible evidence he ever had sex with anyone other than my mother, and probably only four times.

Andrew' August 15, 2011 at 1:14 pm

See, that is not even indecent exposure, and certainly not a sex crime. To paraphrase Warren Buffett, make sure your business can be run by a complete idiot because it soon will be, or in the case of government the day after the law passes.

Roger Koppl August 15, 2011 at 9:49 am

Facts matter if you really want to minimize the harm from pederasts and rapists. Facts can get in the way if you want to signal your revulsion at sexual crimes.

nelsonal August 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

Looking at facts would force society to confront the likelihood of a boyfriend/step father molesting single/divorced mom’s children and probably the best practice would be stricter limits on divorce/single motherhood.

Black Death August 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

Your glib statement that sex offenders have a low recidivism rate is a simplistic view of a highly controversial topic. Even the Wiki link you cited states that sex offenders have a mixed result on recidivism. Here’s a nice article from the WSJ on the difficulty of measuring sex offender recidivism – http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/how-likely-are-sex-offenders-to-repeat-their-crimes-258/. Another study concludes:

Making Sense of Contradictory Findings

Studies on sex offender recidivism vary widely in the quality and rigor of the research design, the sample of sex offenders and behaviors included in the study, the length of follow-up, and the criteria for success or failure. Due to these and other differences, there is often a perceived lack of consistency across studies of sex offender recidivism. For example, there have been varied results regarding whether the age of the offender at the time of institutional release is associated with subsequent criminal sexual behavior. While Beck and Shipley (1987) found that there was no relationship between these variables, Clark and Crum (1985) and Marshall and Barbaree (1990) suggested that younger offenders were more likely to commit future crimes. However, Grunfeld and Noreik (1986) argued that older sex offenders are more likely to have a more developed fixation and thus are more likely to reoffend. A study by the Delaware Statistical Analysis Center (1984) found that those serving longer periods of incarceration had a lower recidivism rate—while Roundtree, Edwards, and Parker (1984) found just the opposite.

http://www.csom.org/pubs/recidsexof.html

….

This does not detract from your original assertion that sex offender registries may be ineffective. Maybe so. But bland statements about low rates of recidivism do an injustice to a highly complex and controversial topic.

efp August 15, 2011 at 10:58 am

Not “deep and primitive feelings and fears about sex” but pathetically adolescent feelings and fears about sex, we have inherited from our puritanical forebears.

azza August 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

Why be concerned with registries……….Most are registered as Democratic Liberal Economic Pedophiles……….Wasn’t Clinton a serial women molester/pedophile……..The Democratic Electorate hidden in plain sight……..

iamreddave August 15, 2011 at 11:39 am

Does this criminal location and crime location data match up with Rossmo’s formula?
http://digginomics.blogspot.com/2010/02/rossmo-s-formula-find-serial-killers.html

Rahul August 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I am tempted by the GPS solution. It allows efficient pinning of crime in case it occurs. Punishment would be swift and assured. OTOH it spares the reformed offender the inconvenience and stigma of being on a public list whose effectiveness at preventing further crimes is questionable.

Most of the commentators above skirts offender rights. Most current debate on sex-crimes seems to assume that once an offender offends he loses almost all future rights.

Jimbino August 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

It needs to be emphasized again and again that most abuse of children is by a wide margin perpetrated, not by strangers, but by parents, relatives and persons they trust, like teachers and preachers. Furthermore, law enforcement officers are more abusive of mates and their children than is the general public.

In truth, children should be taught to report cop and family abuse to a stranger.

David August 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Why the obsession with this type of crime? I don’t think it’s fear of sex or puritanical anxiety but rather the opposite. If there’s one kind of sexual act that is really, really wrong, then it proves that even with all the permissiveness in other sexual areas, there are still limits, so the permissiveness is OK. Or, another way of putting it, as long as we’re really harsh on non-consensual sex, all kinds of consensual sex–regardless of what they are–are OK. It’s a kind of overcompensation.

Scoop August 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm

“Monitoring of all convicted criminals”

This is the sort of thing that horrifies most people, particularly the Alex sort of libertarian, but if the technology could be make to work flawlessly, it would be a boon for society — assuming you believe there’s zero chance we’ll ever need to overthrow the government.

Say everyone, not just criminals, has a functioning GPS chip under the skin. It tracks everyplace you go perfectly, but the information can only be accessed by court order. Your ability to live your life is in no way impacted, but most types of crime become just about impossible. The magnitude of benefit that would come from making crime virtually impossible is hard to overstate and the cost would be trivial.

And I don’t understand the Big Brother worries. Liberty is about being able to do what you want, provided it doesn’t directly harm others. It’s not about being able to do what you want in secret.

ron August 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

As soon as government stops allowing people to directly harm others through the legal system I will sign up. Currently, I eat my unpasteurized butter in secret without telling any of my neighbors because I don’t want the Amish farmer I get it from to be harrased by the FDA.

oncefallendotcom August 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm

And of course, you are assuming the government would not indeed abuse this privilege. It is not like the government has ever raped our Constitution, spied on us, passed an un-Patriot Act, or violated the rights of people based on a label… oh wait…

Mike August 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm

If the ranks of “sex offenders” are filled with streakers, teen-on-teen, and other petty miscreants, then the recidivism rates of sex offenders is likely understated. The streakers will stop streaking after a fine, the teens will turn 20, and the prospective Johns will eventually find a girfriend.

The recidivism rate for rapists and child molestors is disturbingly high. The fact that many molestors are murdered in prison lowers the recidivism rate too.

European August 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I don’t really understand American need for public registry. We in Europe mainly operate without them – and even in countries with them, they are secret and only include very serious crimes. There are no other restrictions on their life, no tracking, no housing limits etc. Our sexual crime rates are not higher because of that.

ron August 16, 2011 at 4:24 pm

America’s sex crime rates are higher then other countries. It is not clear why. It is easier to convict the guilty (and the innocent) for one thing. Personally, I think it is just a law enforcement fad and will tone down after a while. I am sure every country has its witch hunts.

Sex Offender Issues August 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Here is a list of other registries that have spawned from the draconian sex offender online hit-list.

http://tinyurl.com/AllCriminalsRegistry

And here is many recidivism studies:

http://tinyurl.com/SOIRecidivism

Alan August 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

I’d like a public registry of the work and residential addresses of the people who brought about the global financial crisis. It should also show the amount they were paid in bonuses last year.

Shelomith Stow August 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Dearieme, and those supporting you, I’m sorry, but I really have to ask: what is the matter with you? Didn’t you read the article at all, or did you just see something with the words “sex offender” in the title and think up what you seem to think is some cute, sarcastic put-down? Those on the registry have offenses ranging from the silly–two ten year olds playing doctor–to the horrific and violent predators.

This article makes a sincere and serious attempt to explain the hysteria sweeping the nation in the wake of today’s sex offender industry. The effectiveness of the registry is nil because sexual crime, especially against children, is committed by people who are not on the registry.

This entire issue is far too complex to dismiss with a “Let’s send the to Alaska.” Actual sexual crime is devastating to the victims and the offenders alike, and psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists work daily to help both victim and offender. Attitudes such as yours have not been found to be helpful.

Christopher Stemwood August 16, 2011 at 8:18 am

I think you didn’t get Dearieme’s sarcasm.

oncefallendotcom August 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Many of us who have been harmed by these laws, either directly and indirectly, are a little hypersensitive. Thankfully I read the entire comment before I decided to reply :)

Shelomith Stow August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I believe that you are correct; I obviously didn’t read it carefully enough to actually get her meaning. Mea culpa.

Leo August 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

I don’t have access to the Agan paper, but why would it matter that “census blocks with more offenders do not experience statistically significantly higher rates of sexual abuse”? Do sex offenders normally stick to their own immediate neighborhoods? If yes, then doesn’t this suggest that the registries might work? If no, why is this thing about the census blocks relevant?

Shelomith Stow August 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm

No, of course they do not. It is relevant in that people tend to go nuts if they discover a large number of registered offenders close to them when the reality is that their presence does not raise the “danger” level of the neighborhood. But companies are making money off of selling cell phone aps that show where the offenders are and sending alerts to your email if you sign up with them, meaning pay them a fee.
The real question is, why doesn’t anyone pay any attention to the research? Various valid studies have been done, both governmental and private universities, and the results are consistent. There is no indication whatsoever that increased sexual crime is linked to either the presence or the absence of registered sex offenders. In other words, it makes no difference. How could it when, according, again, to the latest studies, a tiny, tiny fraction of sexual assault is committed by registered sex offenders?

Mike August 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm

A big problem with sex offender registries is what they DON’T say. For example, an “offender” may have a writeup: Sex with a minor under 16. What it doesn’t say: When he was 17 he screwed his 15 year old girlfriend. Now, many years later, a mid-30’s guy is still listed as “sex with a minor under 16″.

Most of the people on sex offender registries are not sex offenders, except in the diseased mind of insane prosecuters.

Shelomith Stow August 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Or it can be even worse than that. The Today show a couple of weeks ago had a married couple on. He is a registered sex offender because when they were dating in high school and it became sexual, her mom called the police in hopes of teaching them a lesson. He was 19; she was 16. That was 15 years ago. They have been married almost all of those 15 years and have four children, and he is still on the registry. If you look up his record today, his offense is listed as “sexual assault of a child.” The age of consent in Texas is 17; under that and you are a child–unless, of course you steal a car or shoot someone. If she had killed him, she would have been tried as an adult in a heartbeat. But instead she slept with him, and she is not only a child but a victim.

David Mershon August 17, 2011 at 1:16 am

I think you have the wrong information about lojacking sex offenders in California. I remember this being on the ballot, thinking it was fishy and finding out the day after the election that it had been declared unconstitutional.

Stuart August 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

David M.

It is good netiquette to use Google before posting. Tabarrok is correct

http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Parole/Sex_Offender_Facts/index.html

suetiggers August 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

HERE’S WHO IS MOSTLY ON THE REGISTRY.
If someone is 19& has a girlfriend 15 or 16 and it’s consensual -If someone reports it (usually malicious), if someone gets drunk and urinates in a public place, if someone sees a teenage prostitute (Even if she lied about her age), if someone streaks or moons someone, they could be on the registry. Oh, and the “child” porn…almost all of it is teens… Is there NO difference in your mind between a 10 yr. old and a 15 or 16 yr. old posing nude or doing something sexual one the net ??? I’m NOT SAYING THIS IS GOOD, BY THE WAY. I’m saying there is a big difference. Dangerousness to a pre-pubescent child is the issue.
No wonder they couldn’t find Garrido….so many on the registry that did not belong, that bloated it. These laws are so unjust, so extreme. But the self-righteous, hateful, off with their …..fanatics want to bring back Salem. I hope more rational minded people will prevail. The registry may serve to unduly frighten many parents, may titillate those who use it for amusement but make no mistake, it is ruining people’s lives who do not deserve it. Right now there are so many non dangerous people are on there. Some have been murdered or else killed themselves. I guess the fanatics are happy about that. ” If you care, go to:
http://ilvoices.com/media/23945d47d1a0fd37ffff810bffffe415.pdf
http://www.reformsexoffenderlaws.org/

John A August 17, 2011 at 11:44 pm

I hadn’t thought of this, but if either of my grandfathers were still alive, they could be retroactively charged and classified as sex offenders for their marriages to my grandmothers (one was 16, one 17). It’s sad, but the thought makes me sort of glad for them that they passed on so young.

Georgina S September 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I married a 21 year old at the age of 17 and we have been happily married for 50 years. I wonder if when it comes time for an expensive nursing home I can report him and have him incareated so the taxpayers can pay for his health insurance, hospital bills, and other expenses? What’s really sad is that many who are forced to be on the registry do choose death at a very young age. Another interesting study would be how many of those on the registry or a family member choose to die young versus live in a judgemental Society that takes their anger out on if they have “a bad day.”

grumpygrams August 18, 2011 at 9:55 pm

For starters: A pedophile is a person (male or female) who has a very strong proclivity for children UNDER the age of puberty. In many case the offender has indulged in such behavior maybe only once or twice. Does having a beer make a person an alcoholic?

Many years ago my 12 year old niece was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Her murderer was not on any registry. Why? Well first of all there were no registries at that time but even if there had been, the guy had never, ever committed any kind of crime. A few years ago in Illinois beautiful 3 year old Riley Fox was kidnapped from her home and brutally raped an kidnapped. Her killer was on no registries. Why? Because he had never committed a sex offense before. Incidentally, her father was falsely accused and spent four months in jail and successfully sued the county for a very large sum of money. Also, A few years ago 9 year old Laura Hobbs and her friend Krystal Tobias were raped and murdered and their killer we on no registry. Why? Because he had never been arrested for any crime. Incidentally, Laura’s father spent five years in jail without going to trial accused of her murder. So just how useful is the registry???

Stevenb September 13, 2011 at 12:05 am

It took me a while but have sat and read each and every comment. That in it’s self is a little disturbing to me. However the idea behind the registry was to let parents know if a predictor lived close by and knowledge would be enough to help safe guard against some kind of perceived threat. Ok the old well used line and I head someone use this just the other day trying to promote yet another law. If it saves just one child it’s worth it. Really the guy that tried to use the line to promote his idea didn’t even sound convincing when he said it. It was just the standard line they use and now that I said that how can you not pass my bill? Well anything beyond what the law original was intend to do is waited. Really it’s like closing the barn after the horse is already out. All this is after the fact. So given that most offences are done by people not on the registry and have access to children one has to wonder if not being on the registry say hey I’m ok let me around your kids. See I’m not on the registry and only though’s guys according to what we think are the ones to look out for. Maybe it’s causing more crimes then we are stopping. Has anyone ever looked at it like that?

Sure these registries make us feel like we are really doing something but what is really happening is most don’t report as it’s someone they know or are related to. So if you think about the fact that 90 plus percent are first time offenders and were never on the registry and even more go unreported then are arrested. How many are out there? How many cops will never be reported. How many family members do you know that have been forgiven? but that doesn’t make them any different as they have committed the same crime as ones that have been prosecuted and persecuted by the same people that forgave their family member. But when it happens to us we think well we are different and we don’t want to get caught up in these laws so we don’t report. However we have to make sure that someone pays and the ones on the registry surly must be much worse then our family. Nope they are all the same.

So how do we handle this shame we feel about what we keep secret? We make laws that point away from us as if we are not on the registry and believe me we will lie and cheat and steal till we are caught but until then we are pure as the driven snow.

So maybe what we really need to do is make sure our schools resemble prisons with the same security levels. Make sure no one is around our children that might have thoughts that might lead them into temptation. so how do we do this? Maybe make it a law (and if it saves just one child its worth it). Make every teacher, cop,firefighter, store keeper. every living member of society take polygraph test every six months and if they fail the least little thing revoke their life. Then maybe we would be safe. Or not.

As we need to test the parents and we know that most of the abuse come from with in the home. so wouldn’t that save just one child? If they fail the least little thing on the poly take the kids away. We can’t be to careful. Whatever we can do we must for the sake of the children.

Oh wait there is something called the constitution that protects against such intrusions. So guess we are going to be stuck with this problem unless fear takes over and we home teach and never let the kids out of the house till they are 18 and then only if we can prove we are pure of heart during that time.

I have no idea but given the fact that this isn’t about saving one child. if it was then what I have just said wouldn’t be so far fetched.

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