Does Arizona Sex Offender Registration Cause More Harm Than Good?

Arizona Sex Offender RegistrationSex crimes differ from other types of criminal offense because most of those convicted receive a “Scarlet S” in the form of mandatory registration and notification of their status a sex offender.  Ironically, those who engage in non-violent sex crimes like masturbating in public can be saddled with the harsh consequences of sex offender registration while someone who commits an act of domestic violence or other violent offenses are not subject to such a requirement.  While many cities across the U.S. are enacting more restrictive laws in terms of where registered sex offenders can live, work and travel, there is evidence that these registration and reporting obligations might do more harm than good.

The public policy behind the registration and reporting requirements for sex offenders is two-fold.  Advocates contend that sex offender registration increases public safety while discouraging repeat offenses.  Both of these assumptions are specious at best.  If the goal of sex offender registration is protection of the public, one might question why we do not require virtual all individuals that commit violent offenses to register.  Some argue that sex offenders are distinguishable because they have a higher recidivism rate.  However, this essentially collapses both rationales used to justify registration into a single rational based on a perceived higher risk of repeat offenses.

The sex crime registration and reporting requirements only make sense if they in fact result in an effective deterrent toward repeat offenses.  There is an increasing amount of evidence that sex offender registration has no deterrent effect in a best case scenario or actually increases the recidivism rate.  A study in South Carolina found no significant decline in the six year period after 1999, which was the year the state implemented its online sex offender registry.  The researchers concluded that online notification did not have any impact on the recidivism rate for adult sex crimes.  During the 8.4 years after the implementation of sex offender registration and reporting requirements were implemented, there was no difference in recidivism rates between registered and non-registered sex offenders.

Although the arguments laid out above might suggest that sex offender registration requirements are ineffective, there are people who would argue that it is better to be safe than sorry.  However, there are growing concerns that the harsh limitations imposed by these restriction might actually promote future sex offenses.  Limitations on where sex offenders are allowed to live can isolate individuals who need the support of family and friends when dealing with compulsions toward inappropriate sexual acts.  Further, the public shaming of sex offenders can make it extremely difficult to obtain housing or employment.  The financial and emotional impact of these restrictions, as well as the isolation of homelessness and poverty from unemployment might increase the propensity to reoffend.

Sex offender restrictions in some states are so harsh that they have created colonies of homeless sex offenders cohabitating under bridges, overpasses and similar locations.  The inability of such individuals to obtain support systems, access to resources, a stable home environment and occupational prospects could easily have the opposite effect on recidivism rates than the intended result.  Contact an experienced Phoenix sex crimes lawyer for more information concerning your case.