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Assumptions of Sex-Offender Registration/Notification Laws

The purpose of the sex-offender registration and notification laws has been to "provide ... the public with information about known sex offenders in an effort to assist parents and potential victims to protect themselves from dangerous predators" (Levenson, D'Amora, & Hern, 2007, p. 587). An obvious assumption is that registration and notification will make community members and the police more aware of the whereabouts of known sex offenders. This, however, may not be the case. A Gallup poll revealed that only 23% of adults have actually checked the registry (Saad, 2005). This was true of only 36% of adults with children.

Also, research has consistently shown that sex-offender registries are often inaccurate. One study found that the location of nearly half (49%) of all registered sex offenders in Massachusetts was unknown (Mullvihill, Wisniewski, Meyers, & Wells, 2003). Similarly, more than half of registered sex offenders who were assessed in Florida were either deceased, incarcerated, or not living at the address in the registry (Payne, 2005). As many as 25% of the addresses of registered sex offenders in Kentucky were wrong (Tewksbury, 2002). Although sex offenders are required to register their addresses, it cannot be assumed that this is always done.

It was assumed that registration laws would prevent child molesting and rapes. This, however, begs the question: have registration laws actually led to decreases in such crimes? Several studies have examined this question. One study of rape concluded "that the sex offender legislation seems to have no uniform and observable influence on the number of rapes reported in the [10] states analyzed" (Vasquez, Maddan, & Walker, 2008, p. 188). But does registration decrease the likelihood of recidivism by sex offenders? Maddan (2005) found that registered sex offenders recidivated at approximately the same rate (about 10%) as offenders who were not required to register. Later research also found no differences in sex-offender recidivism among those required to register and those not required to register (Zgoba, Veysey, & Dalessandro, 2010). Still another study, using different samples and study designs, also found that registration had no effect on recidivism rates of sex offenders (Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyopadhyay, Sinha, & Armstrong, 2010).

It is also assumed that convicted sex offenders have a high recidivism rate. As noted in Chapter 1, recidivism rates of convicted sex offenders are relatively low. The overwhelming majority of convicted sex offenders are not re-arrested for another sex offense. Thus, many of the underlying assumptions of sex-offender registration laws have not been supported by existing evidence.

 
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