Beyond Panic Variation in the Legislative Activity for Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Across States Over Time

Check out the latest article by Robert Lytle in Criminal  Justice Policy Review. 

Abstract

Nationwide moral panic has long served as a primary explanation for sex offense laws. These laws, however, remain primarily left to state legislatures, which implies potential variation in their content over time. Variation in legislative content, to the degree that it represents implementation, not only suggests differential consequences for registrants and communities, but also it would raise questions to the sufficiency of moral panic as a sole explanation for sex offense policy change. I build upon earlier work by exploring variation in the content and timing of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) reform in all 50 states over time. After documenting variation in these laws, I present the ways in which SORN legislative content has evolved differently across states. In addition, the timing of legislative reforms differed not only across states but also within states over time. These findings have implications for existing theoretical assertions regarding criminal justice policy.

Sex Crimes and Sex Offenders: Research and Realities

Donna Vandiver, Jeremy Braithwaite, and Mark Stafford have an exciting textbook coming out in 2017 geared towards undergraduate and graduate courses.  Be on the lookout for this book to hit the shelves.

Abstract

Sex Crimes and Sex Offenders: Research and Realities provides an overview of social scientific theory and research on sex crimes and sex offenders. Most other books on the market are focused on a single issue—such as treatment, rape, pedophilia, theory, etc. This book is unique in that it covers the most current theory and research along with individual cases of sex crimes (e.g., Kobe Bryant, Jerry Sandusky, and other case studies), effectively linking theory and research with the realities of sex crimes and sex offenders as well as their victims. Vandiver, Braithwaite, and Stafford are careful to dispel myths and to focus on the heterogeneity of sex crimes and sex offenders, and not on any one issue or population or theory. Instead, they weave a framework using a full range of theoretical concepts and research data to integrate their discussions of crimes, offenders, victims, treatments, and policy implications. The result is a valuable resource for students and early-stage researchers investigating sex crimes or offenders.

Living Arrangements for Sex Offenders in Ohio: Effects of Economics, Laws, and Government Assistance Programs

Shawn M. Rolfe, Richard Tewksbury, and Karen F. Lahm recently published an article living arrangements for sex offenders. This article has been published in Prison Journal. You can read their abstract below.

Abstract

Throughout the United States, Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORN) laws have created housing issues for registered sex offenders (RSOs). As a result of SORN, many RSOs may need to rely on family members for their housing needs. This study focused on two separate SORN laws (i.e., Megan’s Law and the Adam Walsh Act) in Ohio. Each law is enforced based on the offenders’ conviction date. This study draws on data from 188 adult male RSOs in Ohio using a disproportionate stratified sample technique. The findings suggest that neither law influences RSOs living with family members. The results did, however, find that an RSO’s income, or receiving government assistance, or being on probation/parole predicted the odds of living with family members. Policy implications of such findings are discussed.

“The Sleeping Army”: Necropolitics and the Collateral Consequences of Being a Sex Offender

Ethan M. Higgins and Shawn M. Rolfe recently published an article in Deviant Behavior.

Abstract

The current study examines responses from 188 registered sex offenders to assess the impact of collateral consequences and situate such experiences within a framework of necropolitics. Two research questions are addressed: How can the experience of collateral consequences be explained through necropolitics; and, do sex offenders use necropolitics in resistive efforts? Results demonstrate that exclusion from social and political institutions results in a “death in life” for sex offenders. Last, this article discusses an alternative lens for conceptualizing policy initiatives towards sex offenders by juxtaposing Luckmann’s “life-worlds” with Mbembe’s “death worlds.”

Homeless Shelters’ Policies on Sex Offenders: Is This Another Collateral Consequence?

Check out the latest article by Shawn M. Rolfe, Richard Tewksbury, and Ryan D. Schroeder in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 

Abstract

The primary focus of sex offender research has been on the efficacy and collateral consequences of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) and residence restrictions. Past scholarship has found these laws to cause numerous re-entry barriers for sex offenders. Such barriers have affected sex offenders’ ability to find and maintain housing, employment, and social support. Moreover, registered sex offenders (RSOs) have become homeless due to such laws. Although previous scholarship has highlighted the collateral consequences of SORN, there is a lack of scholarship addressing homeless sex offenders. Specifically, the current study assesses policies regarding RSO access to homeless shelters in a four-state region, focusing on the effect of structural, procedural, and geographic factors, as well as a shelter’s proximity to children. Drawing on the loose coupling organizational framework, the findings suggest that a small maximum occupancy, unwritten policies for RSOs, being in Kentucky or Tennessee, being located near a school, and being near a higher proportion of homes with children all decrease the odds that a homeless shelter allows RSOs. Furthermore, although unwilling to make exceptions to the policies regarding RSOs, shelters were generally willing to make exceptions to other policies governing shelter accessibility.

Social Inclusion Despite Exclusionary Sex Offense Laws How Registered Citizens Cope With Loneliness

Dr. Tusty ten Bensel and Lisa Sample recently published an article exploring how registered citizens cope with loneliness. This article has been published in Criminal Justice Policy Review. You can read their abstract below.

Abstract

The use of social media has become associated with empowerment, social capital, and social inclusion for members of marginalized groups in society. Few groups in today’s social environment are as marginalized, if not more, than sex offenders. This article explores the use of social media among 112 registered sex offenders who are in the community, no longer under correctional control, and self-report no reoffending. Self-reports of desistance were triangulated through interviews with 38 spouses/relatives of registrants and arrest data. Unlike prior studies of sex offenders’ use of social media to facilitate offending, we found the use of social media helps create informal social networks, reduces loneliness, and provides a sense of empowerment among sex offenders and their family members. These are all factors important to promoting public safety and reducing sexual recidivism.

Constructing Hysteria: Legal Signals as Producers of Siting Conflicts Over Sexually Violent Predator Placements Authors

Dr. Monica Williams recently published an article in Law & Social Inquiry on sexually violent predatorsYou can read the abstract below. 

Abstract

Sexually violent predator (SVP) statutes define some sex offenders as dangerous enough to be segregated from society, but then require their release into local communities. This article examines how decision makers and community members interpret and respond to this inherent contradiction during disputes over SVP placements. The article departs from traditional moral panic explanations of reactions to sex offenders by linking literature on local siting conflicts to insights from legal mobilization studies in order to understand the origins and features of community opposition to sex offenders. Data from three case studies of SVP placements in California suggest that interpretations of what I call legal signals, or implicit messages embedded in state laws, produced these conflicts. The findings shed new light on the role of law in siting conflicts and collective action by explaining how state laws facilitate communities’ exclusion from siting decisions, encourage local opposition, and disempower already marginalized communities.

Hidden challenges: Sex offenders legislated into homelessness

Dr. Jill Levenson recently published an article on sex offenders legislated into homelessness in the Journal of Social WorkYou can read the abstract below. 

 

Abstract

 Summary: Zoning laws that prevent sex offenders from living within close proximity to schools and other places where children congregate have proliferated over the past 10 years. In many communities, few dwellings are compliant with these laws, causing sex offenders to become homeless. First, a brief history of residence restriction laws will be provided and then the research around their impact and effectiveness will be summarized, followed by empirically supported recommendations for reform.

 Findings: Legislating individuals into homelessness is not sound social policy, nor is it humane. These laws do not conform to what is known about patterns of sexual perpetration and victimization, and thus do little to prevent recidivistic sexual violence. In fact, these policies may undermine the very factors shown by research to be associated with positive reentry and reduced recidivism.

 Applications: The grand challenge of social justice requires social workers to advocate on behalf of those who are marginalized in our communities including criminal offenders. Research-based policy reform can result in improved public safety outcomes and social justice in our communities.

Grand Challenges: Social Justice and the Need for Evidence-based Sex Offender Registry Reform

Dr. Jill Levenson and her colleagues have published a paper in the current issue of The Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare.   The article addresses many of the social justice implications of sex crimes policies and makes recommendations for registry reform. 

Abstract: Sex offender registries, though popular, bring with them enormous fiscal costs and unintended consequences for offenders and communities. Consistent with the Grand Challenges, social workers can play a role in advocating for sex offender management policies that are better informed by evidence and thus a better use of resources. Registry reform would also mediate the stigma resulting from the sex offender label, and reduce barriers to offender reintegration. A brief history of registration laws and the research regarding their effectiveness will be provided, followed by a rationale for needed improvements in sex offender management policy. Five evidence-based recommendations for reform will be proposed: (1) juveniles should not be subjected to sex offender registration; (2) registration durations should be guided by risk assessment research; (3) procedures for relief and removal from registries should be available; (4) discretion should be returned to judges; (5) residence restrictions should be abolished. Such changes can result in improved public safety outcomes and social justice, as well as reduced fiscal and social costs.

The influence of sex offender registration and notification laws on fostering collective identity among offenders

Recently, Dr. Tusty ten Bensel and Dr. Lisa Sample published an article in The Journal of Crime and Justice on registered sex offenders and fostering collective identity. 

Dr. Sample stated, "this publication is an important one in my opinion in that it demonstrates that registrants are cognizant of the legally prescribed label of them as equally dangerous and likely to reoffend, but in response to this label, they can form a collective identity as a member of an "out" group.  The marginalized registrants can interact over time to make them feel as part of a "in" group of registrants, which does offer informal social control.  To this end, traditional treatment, probation, and/or parole rules that force registrants to not associate with other registrants are misguided.  A way to cope with the structurally prescribed label of "sex offender" is to create a collective, or a "in" group of other labeled individuals who provide emotional and social support.

Abstract: A collective identity has been ascribed to sex offenders by law, in which everyone on the registry are presumed to be dangerous, at equal risk for reoffending, and deserve extra scrutiny and prohibitions beyond what other types of convicted offenders experience. As a result, sex offenders often experience harassment, social isolation, stigmatization, loss of employment, and homelessness. Such negative experiences may affect their identities or how they come to view themselves. It is then important to determine if sex
offenders accept the structurally and culturally collective identity placed upon them and what, if any, methods have been found to mitigate social effects on their identity. This study explored if and how the consequences of registration and notification (RN) laws affected notions of person and perhaps created a collective identity among sex offenders. We conducted interviews with 112 sex offenders and found that they did see themselves part of a collective group, one that was formed over time, exhibited a group level consciousness, and practiced negotiations within the group to change the thoughts and daily lives of members. We believe the results of this study can be used to highlight the need to recognize these identities when planning treatment modalities and determine the future of sex offender laws.