Three prominent social workers, including Jill Levenson, recommend significant changes in “sex offender” registries in a recently released report. The recommended changes are
(1) juveniles should be dropped from “sex offender” registries,
(2) the length of registration should be guided by risk assessment research,
(3) procedures for relief and removal should be available,
(4) discretion should be returned to judges and
(5) residency restrictions should be abolished.
The recommendations are based upon several factors, including that while “registries make people feel safer, the data indicate that their actual effectiveness in preventing sexual recidivism is quite weak”. The report also notes that federal government data show that “having to register as a sex offender did not lead to significant reductions in sex offense recidivism”.
According to the report, the “unique label of sex offender” profoundly obstructs the ability of a registrant to successfully re-enter society due to employment difficulties, housing disruption, relationship loss, threats and harassment as well as property damage. The report also states that registrants often suffer from “psychosocial symptoms” such as shame, stigma, isolation, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Further, these impacts often extend to family members who report “financial, practical, social and psychological effects” as well as threats and harassment by community members and social rejection of children by teachers and classmates.
The report also addresses the fiscal considerations of registration about which “law enforcement agents and others have expressed concerns” due to fiscal and workforce demands.
“Resources spent on policies that overextend their reach while failing to enhance public safety take funding away from other rehabilitation and reintegration programs as well as from victim services and prevention initiatives”. The report advocates a “paradigm shift toward empirically-based sex offender management systems which could prove more cost-efficient than current policies.
The report unequivocally supports the abolition of residency restrictions because they “demonstrate no evidence of preventing recidivistic sex crimes”. The report notes that individuals “do not abuse children because they live near schools or parks”.