The WaPo today:
Strict new laws aimed at keeping track of sex offenders after they leave prison appear to be having the opposite effect, encouraging homelessness in a population believed more likely to re-offend if cast into the streets without structure or family support, say prosecutors, police, parole officials and experts on managing sex offenders.
The issue is starkest in California, where the number of sex crime parolees registering as transient has jumped more than 800 percent since Proposition 83 was passed in November 2006. The “Jessica’s Law” initiative imposed strict residency rules and called for all offenders to wear Global Positioning System bracelets for the rest of their lives.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports only about 100 child abductions nationwide a year. The ballot initiative in California has no provision for enforcing it on the 75 percent of California’s convicted offenders who have completed their sentences, unless they are arrested again. Justice Department statistics show that 93 percent of child victims are molested by someone they know. Sex Offender registries provide a false sense of security and soak up an inordinate amount of resources. Resources that could otherwise be used to actually confront the threat:
“There’s this mythology that you have to know who this scary man is in the neighborhood who might hurt your child, when the reality is sex offenders are often people we know and love,” said Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida and a researcher on sex offenders.
The attention paid convicted offenders is also easier to explain emotionally than statistically. Ten percent of sex crimes are committed by someone convicted of a previous sexual offense, and the chances of recidivism vary greatly, statistics show. Clinicians say the odds of an individual re-offending can be predicted with reasonable confidence by assessments that take into account age, offense, history and other variables. In the entire population of sex offenders, clinicians say, about 15 percent bear close watch.
Law enforcement doesn’t much like these laws. Georgia has one of the strictest residency requirements in the nation. A few years ago it was Georgia’s state parole board proposing that some convicted sex-offenders become eligible for parole earlier. Corwin Ritchie, head of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, is quoted in the WaPo piece saying, “I don’t think anybody has found any evidence that they contribute to safety….The main defenders are people who are just basing it on emotion, not good public policy.” His quote suggests that the Iowa County Attorneys Association stands by its 5 page 2006 statement on sex offender registry restrictions (pdf):
[Broad sex offender residency restriction] does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measure.
These measures are not just ineffective, they’re expensive:
GPS tracking of 6,300 parolees will cost $60 million next year, and with the housing contortions, parole officers will have less time for surprise drop-bys and other work.
“We’re probably using 60 to 70 percent of our resources managing 10 percent of our population,” said Alfred Martinez, a state parole official based in Los Angeles.
For further reading here’s a very good collection of links on the topic of registries.