Compiled by Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc.
Facilitating successful reentry is always a challenging endeavor, but with sex offenders specifically, several unique dynamics and barriers make the transition even more difficult. For example, myths about sex offenders and victims, inflated recidivism rates, claims that sex offender treatment is ineffective, and highly publicized cases involving predatory offenders fuel negative public sentiment and exacerbate concerns by policymakers and the public alike about the return of sex offenders to local communities. Furthermore, the proliferation of legislation that specifically targets the sex offender population – including longer minimum mandatory sentences for certain sex crimes, expanded registration and community notification policies, and the creation of “sex offender free” zones that restrict residency, employment, or travel within prescribed areas in many communities – can inadvertently but significantly hamper reintegration efforts.
(“Managing the Challenges of Sex Offender Reentry.” Center for Sex Offender Management, U.S. Dept. of Justice, p.1. February, 2007.)
Sex offender policies have been developed and implemented with little discussion about the research by which they should be informed, or the potential unintended consequences for offenders, their families, and communities. These policies enjoy widespread support despite the absence of evidence indicating that they achieve their stated goals (Levenson et al., 2007). As Tewksbury (2004) observed, sex offenders often experience ‘‘collateral consequences that have serious deleterious effects on their social, economic, and physical well-being’’ (p.33). Others have concurred that the social and economic marginalization of criminals, especially sex offenders, contradicts the principles empirically associated with successful community reintegration (Tewksbury, 2004; Uggen et al., 2004, 2006).
Broad notification policies are more likely to undermine the stability of sex offenders than to provide the sweeping protection they intend to achieve. Defiance theory postulates that criminal sanctions produce desistance from crime only when offenders perceive sanctions as fair and when they have strong bonds to their communities (Sherman, 1993). Our sample indicated that Megan’s Law is experienced by sex offenders as unfair and that it disrupts ties to community. As well, they indicated that the law has little deterrence effect. The potential for Megan’s Law to sabotage offender reintegration should therefore be stalwartly considered, as it might render these laws counterproductive and ultimately not in the best interest of public safety.
(Levenson, Jill, et al. “Megan’s Law and its Impact on Community Re-Entry for Sex Offenders.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law, p.599. 2007.)
Community notification, known as “Megan’s Law,” provides the public with information about known sex offenders in an effort to assist parents and potential victims to protect themselves from dangerous predators. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of community notification on the lives of registered sex offenders. Two hundred and thirty-nine sex offenders in Connecticut and Indiana were surveyed. The negative consequences that occurred with the greatest frequency included job loss, threats and harassment, property damage, and suffering of household members. A minority of sex offenders reported housing disruption or physical violence following community notification. The majority experienced psychosocial distress such as depression, shame, and hopelessness. Recommendations are made for community notification policies that rely on empirically derived risk assessment classification systems in order to better inform the public about sex offenders’ danger while minimizing the obstacles that interfere with successful community reintegration.
(Ibid. Abstract. Behav Sci Law. 2007;25(4):587-602.)