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The Effects of Transitioning to the Adam Walsh Act’s Federally Mandated Sex Offender Classification System

April 16, 2010

Sage Journals Online (registration required): Widening the Net – The Effects of Transitioning to the Adam Walsh Act’s Federally Mandated Sex Offender Classification System

Andrew J. Harris- University of Massachusetts Lowell, Andrew_Harris@uml.edu, Christopher Lobanov-Rostovsky- Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, Jill S. Levenson- Lynn University

With the 2006 passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA), the U.S. Congress set forth a range of minimum standards governing the operation of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) systems throughout the nation. Many of these standards are based on the AWA’s uniform system of registrant classification, which distinguishes registrants solely based on offense history and the nature of the conviction offense, without regard for additional risk factors. The current study evaluates the impact of the federal registration classification system on the distribution of individuals within state sex offender registries, specifically drawing on the experiences of Ohio and Oklahoma, two of the first states to undertake a reclassification of their registrant populations under the new federal guidelines. The findings indicate that the federal reclassification process produces a redistribution of registrants from lower SORN levels to higher ones and reveals statistically significant differences between newly reclassified “high-risk” individuals and those designated as high risk under prior registration classification systems. Findings also suggest that juveniles and those potentially subject to AWA’s retroactivity provisions may be disproportionately placed into the highest SORN tiers. Implications of these findings for practice and public policy are discussed.

Key Words: sex offenders • Adam Walsh Act • sex offender registration and notification

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