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Are Current Approaches Counterproductive?

April 4, 2009 Comments off

Law & Psychiatry: Sex Offenders in the Community: Are Current Approaches Counterproductive?
Paul S. Appelbaum, M.D., American Psychiatric Association

This column examines laws aimed at preventing sex offenders from reoffending and court challenges to those laws. All states have enacted registration and community notification requirements. More than 20 states and hundreds of municipalities now restrict where sex offenders can live. In many states, public disclosure of registration information is not limited to predatory offenders, but instead includes everyone convicted of a sexually related offense. The author argues that draconian approaches will likely not achieve the goal of protecting the public and that they divert limited resources from other law enforcement needs.

Defects in the Adam Walsh Act

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Brandishing the Mark of Cain: Defects in the Adam Walsh Act
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Joseph L. Lester‌, Professor of Law, Faulkner University

Considers sex offender registration requirements under the federal Adam Walsh Act. “Because the social stigma is so great,” he argues, “the brush used to mark sex offenders needs to be precise. Not every person convicted of a sex crime should be designated as a sex offender.” The Adam Walsh Act, however, uses overly broad categories and provides no process by which individual sex offenders can show that they are not so dangerous as to require registration. The author argues in favor of new procedures that would involve asking a jury to determine whether an offender is likely to reoffend before registration is required.

American and Canadian Approaches to Sex Offenders
A Study of the Politics of Dangerousness

(registration required)
Michael Petrunik‌, Adjunct Professor of Criminology, University of Ottawa; Adjunct Professor of Sociology, Carleton University

Canada has followed a markedly different path than the United States in developing legal responses to sex crimes. Criminologists Michael Petrunik and Lisa Murphy and psychiatrist J. Paul Federoff recount the Canadian experience and suggest reasons why the United States has moved so much more quickly to a “community protection” model, which emphasizes risk assessment and management over both treatment and individual due process rights. The authors also question the effectiveness of community notification laws and other measures that have been adopted in the name of community protection. They argue instead for expanded use of “community support and accountability reintegration programs,” which have been used with success in Ontario.

From Wetterling to Walsh: The Growth of Federalization in Sex Offender Policy
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Richard G. Wright‌, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Department, Bridgewater State College

Criminologist Richard Wright argues that Congress has not relied on “research and reason” in adopting new sex offender laws. He examines the national experience with sex offender registration and notification laws prior to the Adam Walsh Act and finds a “lack of empirically demonstrated efficacy, untold financial costs, and faulty promises of sexual assault prevention.” Congress nonetheless greatly expanded registration and notification requirements in 2006 through its adoption of the Walsh Act. The author contends that this new statute, like earlier sex offender laws, is likely to produce a variety of unintended consequences, including significant new fiscal burdens on local-level government, vigilante attacks against offenders, and increased difficulty for offenders in becoming rehabilitated.

Analysis of Sex Offense Recidivism

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Empirical Analysis of Sex Offense Recidivism (PDF)

This report is a summary of a research article forthcoming in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Justice Quarterly.

Levenson, J. S., Letourneau, E., Armstrong, K., & Zgoba, K. (2009, in press). Failure to register as a Sex Offender: Is it associated with recidivism? Justice Quarterly.

Purpose:
In 2006, the Adam Walsh Act was passed, lengthening registration periods, requiring more frequent updating of registrant information, and expanding the number of sex offenders to whom notification requirements apply. The Adam Walsh Act (AWA) also increased penalties for sex offenders who fail to comply with registration obligations. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between failure to register as a sex offender and subsequent recidivism. We sought to determine whether, as a group, sex offenders who failed to register differed significantly from compliant registrants on relevant risk variables.

Conclusions:
The current study indicates that sex offenders who fail to comply with registration are not more apt to reoffend sexually, but substantial resources are spent for enforcement, and, as required by the Adam Walsh Act, to incarcerate violators.