When reentering into the community, registered sex offenders remain hopeful and often seek a new life of freedom, relationships, normalcy, dignity and equality. According to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, “more than 850,000 registered sex offenders currently reside in communities across the United States”. Within a five-year span of their release date, the detected sexual recidivism rate, or the rate of reoffending, is typically between 10 and 15 percent. However, depending on other variables, for some offenders the rate is substantially higher.
Based on a study by two researchers, the cause of sexual recidivism can be linked to antisocial orientation or lifestyle instability. In conclusion, the increase in recidivism rates correlates to the sex offender registry and notification.
Sex offender registry and notification (SORN), formerly known as Megan’s Law, was originally intended to reduce the amount of sexual victimization and recidivism by increasing community awareness. Yet, statistics haven proven otherwise. Due to the SORN, convicted sex offenders and their families are labeled, stigmatized and face issues regarding vigilantism, inadequate housing, inequality and harassment.
Courts too, have seen the sex offender registry as a violation of freedom of speech, privacy rights, due process and protection from cruel and unusual punishment; these are reasons why some condemned it as “unconstitutional.” These experiences of registered sex offenders contribute to the ongoing concerns of how to best protect potential victims of sex crimes while still balancing the rights of the offenders.
In D’Amora, Hern & Levenson’s (2007) report, three criminal justice practitioners imposed an exploratory study to discover the impact that public notification has on the lives of registered sex offenders reentering into the community.
Two hundred and thirty-nine sex offenders living in the states of Connecticut and Indiana were surveyed. Their results concluded that negative consequences with the greatest impact included job loss, threats and harassment, property damage, and suffering family members. This goes to show that with the SORN, not only targets to the offender, but the family and surrounding relationships can be greatly impacted as well. A small fraction of the sex offenders reported to experiencing housing disruption or physical violence following community notification. Lastly, majority of the sex offenders experienced psychological distress such as depression, shame and hopelessness.
Expanding upon the conclusions of this study, another study focused on whether there was a difference of severity in social isolation and shame between registered sex offenders and sex offender family members. Using t-tests to conduct the study, the researches could conclude that registered sex offenders report to having significantly higher levels of social isolation and shame than sex offender family members. Their findings also suggest that sex offenders who are sentenced to a life of lifetime registry struggle with increased levels of social isolation, whether that be the offender themselves or the offender’s family member (Bailey & Klein, 2018). This again stems from the sex offender registry and notification, which enables what should be private information of the offender, to now be easy and accessible via the internet.
Rather than excluding sex offenders from a community and asking them to thrive in such an intimidating environment after serving a prison sentence, as a society, the focus should mainly be on resources and programs that can reduce the likelihood of offending and reoffending. One policy option is the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative (SSOSA), which is a community supervision and treatment alternative to SORN. Washington State implemented this program in 1984, which is used in lieu of an extensive prison sentence. With SSOSA in place, rearrests and sexual recidivism rates will go down and offenders will participate in a sexual-deviancy treatment program all while maintaining the rights of the offenders and eliminating risk to the community.