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How many sex offenders really live among us? Adjusted counts and population rates in five US states


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The current study focuses on creating a more refined understanding of the number and prevalence rates of sex offenders living in five states using adjusted aggregate counts and US census data. Registered sex offender (RSO) population data reported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) were compared to data obtained directly from registries in five states and adjusted for those identified as confined, deported, deceased, or living in another jurisdiction. Results indicate that 43% of RSOs in the five states (ranging from 25% in Texas to 60% in Florida) were not living in the community. Similarly, when estimating point prevalence rates of RSOs per 100,000 people in the US population, rates were substantially inflated when not adjusted for those who are residing in the community. The need for accurate data to inform policy development, resource allocation, and public education is explored. © 2015 Midwestern Criminal Justice Association. All rights reserved.
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How many sex offenders really live
among us? Adjusted counts and
population rates in five US states
Alissa R. Ackerman a , Jill S. Levenson b & Andrew J. Harris c
a Social Work Program, University of Washington, Tacoma, WA,
b Psychology, Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL, USA
c Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of
Massachusetts, Lowell, MA, USA
Available online: 06 Mar 2012
To cite this article: Alissa R. Ackerman, Jill S. Levenson & Andrew J. Harris (2012): How many sex
offenders really live among us? Adjusted counts and population rates in five US states, Journal of
Crime and Justice, DOI:10.1080/0735648X.2012.666407
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How many sex offenders really live among us? Adjusted counts and
population rates in five US states
Alissa R. Ackerman
*, Jill S. Levenson
and Andrew J. Harris
Social Work Program, University of Washington, Tacoma, WA, USA;
Psychology, Lynn
University, Boca Raton, FL, USA;
Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University
of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA, USA
(Received 16 December 2011; final version received 8 February 2012)
The current study focuses on creating a more refined understanding of the
number and prevalence rates of sex offenders living in five states using adjusted
aggregate counts and US census data. Registered sex offender (RSO) population
data reported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
(NCMEC) were compared to data obtained directly from registries in five states
and adjusted for those identified as confined, deported, deceased, or living in
another jurisdiction. Results indicate that 43% of RSOs in the five states (ranging
from 25% in Texas to 60% in Florida) were not living in the community.
Similarly, when estimating point prevalence rates of RSOs per 100,000 people in
the US population, rates were substantially inflated when not adjusted for those
who are residing in the community. The need for accurate data to inform policy
development, resource allocation, and public education is explored.
Keywords: sex offender; registration; community notification; SORN
Contemporary sex offender registration and community notification statutes have
existed since the early 1990s, and were expanded through federal action in 1994
(Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender
Registration Act 1994). Following the 1996 passage of the federal ‘Megan’s Law,’
sex offender registry information was made publicly available and is now easily
accessible on public internet sites in each state. As citizens have become more aware
of sex offenders living in their communities, concerns have naturally emerged about
their proximity to places where children and other potential victims might gather and
the risks these offenders pose to public safety. The purpose of the current study was
to better understand prevalence rates of sex offenders in US communities, the
complexities and idiosyncrasies of calculating raw counts and population rates, and
the ways these data might be utilized to inform policy initiatives.
Current sex offender registration and notification (SORN) policies have existed for
approximately two decades, and therefore the research in this area remains in its
*Corresponding author. Email:
Journal of Crime and Justice
2012, 1–11, iFirst article
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infancy. The goal of SORN is to facilitate protection of the public from known sex
offenders through increased public awareness and enhanced law enforcement
monitoring. While most empirical investigations of SORN have not detected
instrumental effects such as reduced reoffending (Sandler et al. 2008, Vasquez et al.
2008, Zgoba et al. 2009, Letourneau et al. 2010) or increased community protection
behaviors (Anderson and Sample 2008, Kernsmith et al. 2009, Bandy 2011), some
scholars have asserted that sex offender policies can accomplish important symbolic
objectives (Sample et al. 2011). They send a clear message that sexual victimization
will not be tolerated and that politicians are willing to address public concerns
(Sample and Kadleck 2008, Sample et al. 2011). Policy enactment can serve to inspire
and reinforce social solidarity by uniting toward a commonly accepted goal (Roots
Other studies have examined the impact of SORN on offender reintegration,
with typical findings suggesting that these laws impede community re-entry and
adjustment in a variety of ways including employment obstacles, housing
disruption, and social ostracization (Zevitz and Farkas 2000, Sample and
Streveler 2003, Tewksbury 2004, 2005, Levenson and Cotter 2005, Tewksbury
and Lees 2006, Levenson et al. 2007, Mercado et al. 2008). Offenders also report
that the unique stigma of SORN contributes to psychosocial stressors such as
depression and hopelessness, and many have suffered threats and harassment,
physical assault, and property damage. Collateral consequences to offenders’
family members are also a common byproduct of public disclosure. For example,
a survey of 584 family members of registered sex offenders (RSOs) across the
United States revealed that they too are profoundly impacted by these laws
(Levenson and Tewksbury 2009).
Even as research studying the impact and effectiveness of SORN is developing, it
has been paradoxically more difficult to ascertain seemingly simple statistics about
the population of RSOs. Studying the US sex offender population in an effort to
paint a national portrait has proven challenging because registries are independently
administered by states. Despite federal attempts to mandate standardization and
uniformity, states continue to vary widely in how they identify and define variables,
analyze data, and communicate information via their public registry systems. Due to
variations in the scope, content, and format of information contained within state
registries, efforts to develop a comprehensive descriptive portrait of the nation’s RSO
population has proven to be a daunting task. Thus far, the primary source of
integrated data about the US sex offender registry population has been the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which conducts a survey of
state registries twice each year to generate and consolidate a count of RSOs in each
jurisdiction. In June 2011, there were reportedly a total of 739,853 RSOs nationwide
(National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 2011).
Recently, however, utilizing data downloaded directly from public registries,
researchers were able to create an integrated database and draw aggregated
inferences about RSOs in the United States by analyzing a sample of 445,127 RSOs
listed in 2010 on the public registries of 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and
Guam (Ackerman et al. 2011). The data represented approximately two-thirds of the
total number of RSOs counted by NCMEC in June 2010, because lower-risk RSOs
in some states are registered with law enforcement but their information is not
available on public internet sites. As well, Ackerman and colleagues eliminated in-
state duplicate records from the sample, and the state of Michigan was excluded due
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to missing data. Ackerman et al. found that RSOs are predominantly male (98%)
and white (66%), with blacks over-represented on registries (22%) based on
estimates that they comprise less than 13% of the US population (US Census Bureau
2009). Individuals of all ages are found on state registries, but the mean age of RSOs
is 49 years old with 74% between the ages of 26 and 55.
Nationally, about 14% of public registrants (higher-risk offenders from some
states and all offenders from other states), have been designated as high risk,
predator, or sexually violent (Ackerman et al. 2011). At least 85% were found to be
first-time sex offenders with no prior sex crime conviction. Approximately 90% of
RSOs have had a minor victim, with about 33% of victims identified as 10 years old
or younger. The majority of adult and minor victims (87%) are female.
Notably, Ackerman et al. (2011) found that a considerable number of the RSOs
counted by NCMEC do not appear to reside in the community. Approximately 12%
of RSOs listed on public internet registries nationwide were designated as
incarcerated, civilly committed, deceased, or deported. An extreme example is
Florida, where, of over 55,000 registrants, more than half were living out of state or
were institutionalized.
Though it has been widely reported that there are ‘100,000 registered sex
offenders in the United States whose whereabouts are unknown’ (National Center
for Missing and Exploited Children 2011), Levenson and Harris (2011) found that
between 2 and 4% of the nation’s sex offenders are transient, homeless, absconded,
non-compliant, or their whereabouts are otherwise uncertain. It was difficult for the
authors to confirm the precise number of fugitive sex offenders because states have
widely disparate methods for classifying absconders, registration violators, and
others whose locations are unknown (Levenson and Harris 2011). Rates of
registration noncompliance varied wildly and ranged from 2% in Florida to over
13% in California with a median rate of 2.7%, but no evidence was found to support
the notion that 100,000 of the nation’s sex offenders are missing or unaccounted for
(Harris et al., forthcoming).
NCMEC figures
As noted above, twice per year, NCMEC conducts a phone survey of the states and
draws upon the results to produce a jurisdictional RSO count portrayed on a color-
coded map which is easily accessible on the Center’s website. The map includes an
aggregate count of RSOs in each state and territory, along with US census-adjusted
figures denoting the rate of RSOs per 100,000 citizens. The count from June 2011
indicated that there are 739,853 RSOs living throughout the United States and its
territories, with an average rate of 236 RSOs per 100,000 people in the population.
Approximately 45% (N¼331,448) of the RSOs in the United States live in five
states: California (N¼106,216), Texas (N¼66,587), Florida (N¼55,999),
Michigan (N¼47,329), and New York (N¼32,257).
Given the dearth of published data describing national sex offender registry
statistics, NCMEC’s map has become a ubiquitous source of information for the
media and policymakers. Their snapshots provide a simple and current count of the
RSO population and consequently carry substantial influence in shaping public
opinion and policy debates regarding responses to RSOs. These data are, however,
limited in important ways by the corresponding lack of interpretation, explanation,
or contextualization of the statistics.
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Purpose of the current study
The current study was designed to build upon the nascent research literature
examining the scope of US sex offender registries and the individuals contained
within them. In particular, this study focused on creating a better understanding of
the rates of sex offenders living in the community using adjusted aggregate counts
and US census data. Such a study is valuable in informing policy implementation
and formulating resource allocations related to sex offender management
procedures. Using more refined methods for establishing RSO population counts
and rates in five jurisdictions, we hope to contribute empirically derived data to the
discourse around sex offender policy. Specifically, the study aimed to: (1) compare
RSO population data reported by NCMEC with data provided directly by state
registries in five states and attempt to explain discrepancies; (2) establish refined
counts of RSOs living in the community in five states, adjusting for those identified
as confined, deported, deceased, or living in another jurisdiction; and (3) establish
adjusted population rates of RSOs living in the community in five states using US
census data.
The sample is generated from five states which provide sex offender registry datasets
publicly available for research purposes. Included in this analysis are Florida,
Georgia, Illinois, New York, and Texas.
In choosing the states, we began by seeking
data for the five largest state registries in the United States (CA, FL, MI, NY, TX),
which make up 45% of the total US RSO population. Florida and Texas make full
datasets available for download, while California, New York, and Michigan do not.
Consequently, we sought publicly available current and thorough data files from
alternative states with large RSO populations. Four of the five aforementioned states
offered comprehensive databases and were chosen for use over ’scraped’ data
because all offenders and relevant variables were included. So, the five chosen states
allowed for an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison to the counts and rates published by
Data collection
For all states except New York, the publicly available datasets were downloaded in
August 2011. Each of the four datasets was entered into an integrated Microsoft
Excel file. The NY process was not based on case-level data, and therefore was
fundamentally different from the process employed for the other four states. New
York reports a publicly available breakdown of the proportion of sex offenders in
various categories, which is updated weekly, allowing us to calculate the number of
registrants for each of the variables of interest. Though no case-level data were
available, this tool allowed for comparisons with the other four states. The New
York data were obtained in August 2011.
The first step in the data-cleaning process was to create a data file made up solely
of sex offenders actively residing within the community in each jurisdiction. This was
done by identifying all offenders whose current addresses were listed as out of state
or in some form of custody, and these were moved to a second datasheet. Text
queries were then utilized to double-check whether incarceration information was
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listed elsewhere. A second set of text queries was employed to account for deceased,
civilly committed, and deported offenders. When data were missing within the
downloaded datasets, other sources of data were sought and obtained to estimate
these counts (see Table 1). Any offenders who matched the criteria for not residing in
the community were subtracted, and the resulting dataset accounted for the actual
number of RSOs actively residing within the community in the five states.
Next, we obtained the 2010 state census data for each jurisdiction in the sample
(US Census Bureau 2010). The 2010 census figures were used in order to be directly
comparable with NCMEC, which used 2010 census estimates to calculate their June
2011 rates.
Analytic strategy
Utilizing the adjusted RSO community counts from the datasets and population
estimates from state census data, we created point prevalence rates for each of the
five jurisdictions. In epidemiological research, point prevalence is a concept
measuring the proportion of people in a population who have a disease or condition
on a particular date, creating a snapshot of the occurrence of the condition in the
population at a given time (Gerstman 2003). Point prevalence can be calculated by a
formula in which prevalence equals the number of existing cases on a specific date
divided by the number of people in the population at that same point in time. In
order for our point prevalence rates to be directly comparable to those published by
NCMEC, we computed the rate of point prevalence per 100,000 people in the
population. This is accomplished by multiplying the rate by 100,000 to determine the
rate of occurrences of the condition for every 100,000 people in the population – in
this case, the number of RSOs residing in the community in each state per 100,000
people in the state population:
No:of RSOS in state=Total state population½100;000
¼point prevalence rate per 100;000:
State counts
The five jurisdictions of interest for this study accounted for 26% (N¼195,864) of
the 739,853 RSOs identified in June 2011 by NCMEC. The first two rows in Table 1
illustrate the counts obtained by NCMEC and by our data files during the sampling
time frames. Because RSO counts change daily, based on new admissions to the
registry as well as attrition by death, deportation, and expiration of registration
requirements, counts obtained on any given day will differ from those obtained on
another day. Our data were downloaded in August 2011, and NCMEC’s map was
published on 17 June 2011, indicating that their data were presumably collected
within the two to three months prior. The numbers match fairly closely, with
discrepancies of less than 1000 cases in four states. The exception is Illinois, where
NCMEC reports 3791 fewer RSOs than were found in our data file provided by the
NCMEC reported that 38 jurisdictions, including FL, GA, IL, TX and NY,
contain in their totals offenders who reside out of state as well as those who are
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Table 1. State counts and rates per 100,000 population.
Florida Georgia Illinois New York Texas Total
State counts
Total from NCMEC 55,999 19,724 21,297 32,257 66,587 195,864
Total on public data file 56,784 20,212 25,088 32,930 66,121 201,135
In-state address 41,087 16,479 19,389 22,701 66,095 165,751
Incarcerated/civilly committed 16,081 3,468 6,323 4,071
Deported/deceased 2,129 n/a n/a 2,680 4,822 9,631
Total living in community 22,877 13,011 13,066 15,950 49,786 114,690
Difference (row 2 – row 6) 33,907 (760%) 7,201 (736%) 12,022 (748%) 16,980 (752%) 16,335 (725%) 86,445 (743%)
State rates of RSOs per 100,000 population
State population
18,801,310 9,687,653 12,830,632 19,378,102 25,145,561
NCMEC rate per 100,000 300 199 165 165 264
Adjusted rate per 100,000 132 134 101 70 212
This total includes an estimated 237 individuals civilly committed. This figure was obtained from the New York State Office of Mental Health Report to the Legislature
Texas incarceration data were not included in the downloadable dataset. This figure comes
from a survey of state registry managers conducted in September 2010 (Harris et al., forthcoming).
State populations were obtained from 2010 census.
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incarcerated, deported, and deceased. When those who are confined, deceased,
deported, or living outside the jurisdictions were removed from the counts in the
public data files, the total number of offenders who were residing in communities
within the five jurisdictions decreased to 114,690, which represents a 43% reduction
(see Table 1). Comparisons between total and adjusted counts are illustrated in
Figure 1.
State rates
By eliminating those individuals who were not actively residing in the jurisdiction,
the state rates also decreased substantially. Using NCMEC counts in each state, the
point prevalence rates of RSOs per 100,000 population were as follows: FL ¼300;
GA ¼195; IL ¼101; NY ¼165; and TX ¼264 (see Table 1). Using our down-
loaded data, and after removal of RSOs who are confined, deceased, deported,
or living in other jurisdictions, point prevalence rates of RSOs per 100,000
population dropped to 132 in FL, 134 in GA, 101 in IL, 70 in NY, and 212 in TX
(see Table 1).
When establishing counts of RSOs living in the community in the five states, we
adjusted for those identified as confined, deported, deceased, or living in another
jurisdiction and found that about 43% of RSOs in the five states (ranging from 25%
in Texas to 60% in Florida) were not living in the community. In other words, at any
given point in time, a substantial proportion of RSOs identified by NCMEC may not
be living amongst us. Similarly, when estimating point prevalence rates of RSOs per
100,000 people in the US population, rates were substantially lower after being
adjusted for those not in the community.
Though the current data represent only five states, some consistent trends are
apparent. First, in each of these states, offenders who no longer reside within the
jurisdiction remain on the state registry, and NCMEC reports this to be true in at
least 33 other jurisdictions as well. Thus, counts mischaracterize the raw size of each
registry, inflating them by default beyond the true number of unique individual RSO
residents of each state. In other words, some individuals are counted in multiple
Figure 1. Comparisons of registry totals versus in-state, in-community counts.
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jurisdictions. Second, at any given time, a fairly consistent and predictable pro-
portion of sex offenders in each respective state is confined, removing them from the
risk pool and eliminating the need for law enforcement to track and monitor their
As discussed earlier, until recently the challenges of analyzing national US
registry data have restricted the ability of researchers to paint a national portrait of
the RSO population. NCMEC data are therefore cited ubiquitously, but given the
aggregated nature of their data, counts and rates can be easily misinterpreted. In
particular, a substantial number of RSOs (about 18% in our sample, or nearly one
in five) appear to be registered in more than one state, meaning that they appear in
NCMEC’s count multiple times, overestimating the total number. Furthermore, the
inclusion of registrants who are incarcerated, deported, or deceased distorts the
reality of how many RSOs are truly living in our communities. It is unclear how
the identification of deceased and deported sex offenders benefits public safety, and
in fact, inflated RSO counts and rates may invoke increased public fear about sexual
crimes and reinforce stereotypical but misguided public perceptions about stranger
danger. Utilizing more refined techniques to establish RSO counts and rates serves to
provide more accurate estimates to the public.
There are several reasons why accurate counts are important. First, the goals of
registration and notification are to enhance public awareness of sex offenders and to
assist law enforcement to track and monitor these individuals. It is therefore vital to
distinguish between those who are actually living in the community and those who
are not. Second, policy development at the national level has been driven largely by
information provided by a limited circle of selected stakeholders, rather than by
independently conducted empirical research. Prevalence statistics are necessary to
better understand the scope and magnitude of any social problem and to inform
policy development, implementation planning, and resource distribution. Finally,
jurisdictions vary in their data collection and reporting procedures, and as such, the
overall numbers and population-adjusted rates currently available are not directly
comparable across jurisdictions, and in some cases might be highly inflated. Federal
funding allocation is often tied to these figures.
The current study represents an attempt to provide only a snapshot in time, created
from data obtained directly from only five jurisdictions, of the number of sex
offenders actively residing within those communities. Because of idiosyncratic data
collection techniques and variable definitions in each state, readers should take
caution in generalizing these findings to other jurisdictions or to the entire nation as
a whole. While certain trends do appear to emerge, the findings here may not apply
to specific jurisdictions. Furthermore, sex offender rates will vary within states
according to the demographics in rural or more densely populated metropolitan
areas. Concerns about the accuracy and upkeep of RSO addresses have been noted
and therefore we can offer only limited assurances about the certainty of registry
data at any given time. However, recent enhancements in technology and automated
tracking procedures have led to improvements in monitoring and verifying the
locations of RSOs (Levenson and Harris 2011).
Though we made every effort to extract precise information from each state,
certain isolated pieces of missing data forced us to substitute figures from alternative
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but credible sources. Thus, although we took every precaution to ensure that the
data accurately represent informed aggregated inference, the numbers might not
always be exact. The NCMEC data were collected about three months prior to the
data used in this study, and RSO counts change daily. Notwithstanding some minor
differences, we believe the time frames allowed for a fair comparison and that both
sets of numbers represent a close approximation of the number of RSOs in the five
states during the summer of 2011.
Getting smart about sex crime prevention?
For the last quarter century, US policy makers have had a tendency to initiate
‘tough on crime’ bills. SORN requirements remain part of that public policy
zeitgeist. Social policy is often driven by public sentiment, which is strongly
influenced by media portrayals of the most heinous (but statistically improbable)
crimes and tends to reflect a rather simplified and homogenized view of sex
offenders as repetitive, compulsive, and untreatable (Levenson et al. 2007, Katz
et al. 2008, Lieb and Nunlist 2008, Mears et al. 2008). Despite the declining
incidence of violent crime in general and sex crime specifically (Federal Bureau of
Investigation 2011), sex offender registries have remained a priority on legislative
agendas. While broad latitude was initially permitted for states in operating their
registration and notification systems, federal guidelines now mandate that states
monitor sex offenders in accordance with standardized procedures intended to
improve uniformity across jurisdictions (Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety
Act 2006).
This uniformity, in theory, can potentially provide a wealth of data regarding the
individuals contained within registries and their offenses, leading to the development
of a national depiction of the US sex offender population. In addition, national-level
data can be utilized to frame public policy debates, allocation of resources, and
justification for operational decisions (Harris et al., forthcoming). Recent efforts to
engage in empirical investigations using registry data have uncovered significant
challenges of definitional ambiguity and variability across states. Unfortunately,
while the Adam Walsh Act provides federal standards for sex offender reporting
requirements, risk tiers, and registration durations, the law did little to improve data
integrity, data quality, definitional uniformity, or data integration. Thus, the ability
to answer empirical questions about the US RSO population remains a challenge.
One way to improve upon these issues would be to encourage states to adhere to
uniform definitions and data collection procedures. Registries admittedly were not
designed for research purposes, but the standardization intended by the Adam
Walsh Act, if extended to include states’ data management systems, could assist in
policy evaluation and planning. Accurate data are essential when considering the
many operational and fiscal decisions that stem from the data.
1. New York provides a statistical breakdown that was utilizable in the current study.
2. We are unable to ascertain the exact reason for this inconsistency, and note that NCMEC
reported a total of 21,297 RSOs in Illinois in June 2011, while scraped data from Illinois in
Spring 2010 revealed 24,378 RSOs (Ackerman et al. 2011) and Illinois registry
managers reported in a December 2010 survey that there were 26,662 registrants in the
state (Harris et al., forthcoming). It is unclear why NCMEC is receiving lower counts from
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Notes on contributors
Alissa R. Ackerman is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice in the Social Work Program
at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Her research and publications focus on US sex
offender management policy and the impact of registration, community notification, and
residency restrictions on offender reintegration.
Jill S. Levenson is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Lynn University in Boca Raton,
FL. Her research investigates the impact and effectiveness of social policies and therapeutic
interventions designed to prevent recidivistic sexual violence.
Andrew J. Harris is Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and
Criminology at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He conducts applied policy research
in the areas of sex offender management, juvenile justice, corrections, and mental health.
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... 'Megan's law' started in New Jersey; it required state-level sex offender registration and made the whereabouts of those deemed as 'high risk' available to the public (Fitch, 2006). This law was subsequently extended to federal legislature, requiring all states to notify the public of 'dangerous' sexual offenders (Ackerman et al., 2012). However, public notification in the USA actually takes a number of different forms, ranging from full active public disclosure to limited disclosure based on levels of risk with the onus on the public to make an application (see Kemshall, 2008 for a full discussion). ...
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Summary: This paper reviews the current position in relation to sex offender registration and community notification in England and Wales. It reports on data collected as part of a wider research project evaluating law enforcement perspectives related to sex offender registration and notification and the management of sex offenders in the community. In examining law enforcement perceptions, it discusses issues that have been raised related to information sharing and the efficacy of such schemes. The authors also consider how the sex offenders register and Child Disclosure Scheme could be used more effectively in the future. Given that a similar child disclosure scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2016, issues that practitioners in that jurisdiction may find it useful to consider are highlighted.
... This gap is particularly notable given the central role that police and sheriff agencies play in managing SORN systems, interacting with RSOs, and enforcing SORN compliance. The current study attempts to fill this gap in the literature , presenting an exploratory examination of law enforcement officials' concern figures to be somewhat inflated due to inclusion of RSOs who are incarcerated, deported, or counted on multiple state registries, as well as the inclusion of multiple aliases as unique offenders, estimates suggest that between 500,000 and 600,000 unique RSOs live within U.S. communities (Ackerman, Levenson, & Harris, 2012; Harris, Levenson, & Ackerman, 2014). ...
A growing body of research has examined the collateral effects of sex offender registration and notification (SORN), particularly those related to offenders' social and economic reintegration into society. Although studies have examined public, offender, treatment provider, and other criminal justice perspectives on SORN's collateral impacts, few have elicited the views of law enforcement (LE) professionals who have contact with registered offenders. This study presents results from a mixed method study examining LE perspectives on collateral consequences and effectiveness of SORN. Results indicate that, although overall LE concern regarding collateral impacts is limited, those who are most engaged in SORN-related duties are significantly more likely to indicate such concern, and also more likely to believe that SORN was an effective public safety tool. Importantly, respondents in states with larger registries expressed greater concern over collateral consequences, and less belief in SORN's public safety efficacy. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.
This exploratory mixed-methods study utilized data from 101 semistructured interviews and a nationwide survey (n = 765) to examine law enforcement perspectives on sex offender compliance with registration obligations. Specifically, law enforcement views were explored regarding the definitions and frequency of noncompliance, its underlying reasons or causes, and challenges and practices relating to its detection and management. Findings indicated that defining sex offender noncompliance with registration mandates is no simple task, but underscored the need to differentiate between purposeful and intentional forms of non-compliance and those that are less so. Data also support prior research indicating that few sex offenders truly abscond, and that most non-compliers are easily located. Detection of registration violators occurs through a number of means, and officers rely on community members, fellow law enforcement agents, and supervision partners to help monitor and manage their registrants. Variation exists between and within jurisdictions in terms of definitions, compliance management practices, and enforcement strategies. Translated into the domains of policy and practice, findings suggest that, rather than framing noncompliance under a single umbrella of "failure to register," law enforcement efforts might be enhanced through improved typologies of non-compliance that can help to prioritize the use of enforcement resources.
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To date, scholars have simply inferred the beliefs underlying sex offender laws from the passage and content of the legislation. Few researchers have directly spoken to legislators to determine their opinions of the sex offender problem. This study seeks to determine the perceptions of sex offenders and sex offending in the 1990s that drove the need for sex offender reform in Illinois and the degree to which these perceptions influenced the content of the laws. The findings suggest that policy makers had very distinct ideas about the nature of the sex offender problem in terms of who was responsible, who was in need of protection, and the degree to which legislative responses would address the issue. There was congruence between these personal perceptions and the content of sex offender laws. The results shed light on the degree to which public officials' personal perceptions influence the passage and content of legislation.
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Sex crime prevention policies are influenced by public opinion about sexual violence, and by the belief that such policies are effective in reducing or preventing sexual recidivism. It has been suggested that the public perceptions and attitudes in this area are based in part on popular myths and misconceptions. The current study examines public perceptions about sexual violence by exploring endorsements of "myths" and "facts." Data were collected from an online survey posted on a nation-wide community message board that canvassed 15 states in the U.S. Results suggested that while many community members are fairly well informed about some aspects of sexual violence, certain items were commonly misconstrued. Public attitudes about sexual violence and the implications for victim advocacy and public policy are discussed.
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It is frequently reported by the media and public officials that 100,000 registered sex offenders (RSOs) in the United States are “missing.” This policy note first describes the origin of this figure, which was initially derived from a 2003 informal survey of state registries conducted by a grassroots advocacy organization. Then, we explore the definitional ambiguities that complicate the process of calculating the national number of fugitive sex offenders. Finally, we present emerging research efforts to develop reliable estimates of the number and proportion of RSOs officially recorded by states as absconded, whereabouts unknown, or noncompliant with registration requirements. While such data remain limited, we find little evidence to support that 100,000 sex offenders are “missing,” using even the most inclusive definitions. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.
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“Get tough” approaches for responding to sex crimes have proliferated during the past decade. Child pornography in particular has garnered attention in recent years. Policy makers increasingly have emphasized incarceration as a response to such crime, including accessing child pornography. Juxtaposed against such efforts is a dearth of knowledge about “get tough” policies for responding to sex crimes, particularly those targeting children, and how most appropriately to respond to such crimes. The authors examine data from a national telephone survey of Americans to explore views toward sex crimes, with a special emphasis on crimes against children. The findings indicate the public supports tough responses to child sex crimes, but they also support treatment of sex offenders. Also, despite views that incarceration is an appropriate response to possessing child pornography, several social and demographic cleavages in such support exist. The authors discuss these findings and their implications for policy and research.
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Although federal legislation for the implementation of sex offender registration and notification systems is now a decade old, empirical studies on the efficacy of this policy are relatively nonextant. This article explores the impact of registration legislation on the incidence of forcible rapes. Using monthly count data of rapes aggregated at the state level, this analysis uses Box–Jenkins autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models to conduct 10 intervention analyses on the enforcement of Megan's Law. The results of the analyses are mixed on whether the enforcement of sex offender registration had a statistically significant effect on the number of rapes reported at the state level. Although several states showed a nonsignificant increase in the number of rapes, only three states had a significant reduction in rapes. Policy implications are discussed in terms of the efficacy of sex offender registration and whether changes in these laws should be considered.
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Some sex offender registration and notification (SORN) policies subject all registered sex offenders to Internet notification. The present study examined the effects of one such broad notification policy on sex crime recidivism. Secondary data were analyzed for a sample of 6,064 male offenders convicted of at least one sex crime between 1990 and 2004. Across a mean follow-up of 8.4 years, 490 (8%) offenders had new sex crime charges and 299 (5%) offenders had new sex crime convictions. Cox’s relative risks and competing risks models estimated the influence of registration status on risk of sexual recidivism while controlling for time at risk. Registration status did not predict recidivism in any model. These results cast doubt on the effectiveness of broad SORN policies in preventing repeat sexual assault. Policy implications, particularly with respect to the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which requires broad notification, are discussed.
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The purpose of this study is to better understand the positive and negative, intended and unintended, consequences of community notification on sex offenders’ rehabilitation and reintegration. A sample of 183 convicted male sex offenders from Florida completed the survey. Overall, about one third of participants had experienced dire events, such as the loss of a job or home, threats or harassment, or property damage. Physical assaultwas a relatively rare occurrence. The majority identified negative effects, such as stress, isolation, loss of relationships, fear, shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness. Some participants noted positive effects of Megan’s Law, including motivation to prevent reoffense and increased honesty with friends and family. Fewsex offenders believed that communities are safer because of Megan’s Law, and more than half reported that the information posted about them on Florida’s Internet registry was incorrect. Implications for practice and policy are discussed.
Why is it that so many laws perpetually fall short of their intended goals? Why haven’t humanity’s greatest minds managed to solve basic social ills? This article amasses considerable evidence suggesting that (a) law is inherently incapable of producing major social change because legal restrictions unsettle social equilibria and generate counteractions and (b) the subconscious purpose behind many laws is the promotion of social solidarity for its own sake. The author concludes that laws and the politics that forge them are essentially religious practices that have little basis in rational analysis. Thus can be explained both the perpetual failure of many laws and their irreconcilable popularity.
Sex offender registrationwas widely implemented in the 1990s as a means of enhancingcommunity awareness of sex offenders to promote community safety. This study is one of the first examinations of the collateral consequences of sex offender registration from the perspective of the offender. Drawing on data from 121 registered sex offenders in Kentucky, this research shows that social stigmatization, loss of relationships, employment, and housing, and both verbal and physical assaults are experienced by a significant minority of registered sex offenders.