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. 


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.


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. 


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. 



 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.

Sex Offender Residential Mobility and Relegation: The Collateral Consequences Continue

Dr. Richard Tewksbury is co-author on a recent paper which focused on how sex offenders continue to be relegated to socially disorganized neighborhoods. This 2016 study, published in the American Journal of Criminal Justiceconfirms findings from his 2006 study on a similar topic. 

Abstract: Prior research (see American Journal of Criminal Justice 30 (2), 177–192, 2006a) examined the residential locations and mobility of registered sex offenders and showed a common movement into increasingly socially disorganized neighborhoods after 5 years of registration. The present study examines whether or not this downward spiral continues for these sex offenders 10 years later. We examined 212 registrants from the original study and found that since their original arrest 38 % of the registrants have moved into a more socially disorganized neighborhood than their previous address. The only variable found to influence the likelihood of move to a more socially disorganized neighborhood is race, with minority sex offenders most affected. The findings suggest that the collateral consequences of sex offender policies have longterm deleterious effects on housing for sex offenders.

Examining the Correlates of Sex Offender Residence Restriction Violation Rates

In a new study published in the Journal of Quantitative CriminologyDr. Jason Rydberg and his colleagues assessed correlates of sex offender residence restriction violations. 

Abstract: Although several studies have warned that enacting sex offender residence restrictions (SORR) will result in a large number of sex offenders needing to relocate their housing, additional research has found that large proportions of sex offenders (from 30 - 90%) continued to live at addresses in violation of SORR policies. We sought to explore the correlates of SORR violation rates at the county level across Michigan and Missouri. We found that counties with higher levels of concentrated disadvantage had significantly higher violation rates. This finding was isolated to sex offenders following SORR implementation and was not observed among pre-SORR sex offenders, or pre/post SORR non-sex offenders. The research suggests that the factors which drive SORR violations may vary considerably across states, and research into SORR implementation will be necessary to understand the mechanism underlying this relationship.

Bad Data: How government agencies distort statistics on sex-crime recidivism

In the spring of 2016, Dr. Alissa Ackerman and her colleague, Dr. Marshall Burns published a study in the Justice Policy Journal.  

Abstract: Data on the recidivism rates of individuals convicted of sex crimes varies considerably across studies. Both academic papers and government reports have assessed various forms of recidivism for this group, with different findings. The vast majority of the public believes that people convicted of sex crimes will inevitably reoffend and this is the premise upon which most related legislation is based. However, this premise is based on false and misleading information contained in numerous published reports. After a review of 287 studies of recidivism statistics, we selected seven that exhibit the most egregious misinformation and that have been the most influential in shaping governmental policy. We examine these seven studies thoroughly to better understand their definitions, interpretation, and presentation of recidivism data. We then seek to resolve discrepancies and to determine what can legitimately be said about sex-crime recidivism. We then discuss new revelations about recidivism and sex crimes vis-a-vis our analysis and we offer suggestions for future research.