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Why the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act need to be abolished
Why the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act need to be abolished
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Ac t (SORNA) refer to title 1 of the 2006 Child Safety and Protection Act (Public Law 109-248). The Act, which is part of the federal law, requires states to monitor and track the behavior and actions of convicted sex offenders after being released into the society. Under this Act, it is a crime failing to register or update details of such individuals to responsible authorities in accord to the requirements of this law.
Nonetheless, despite notable benefits of SORNA, there have been arguments that the program need to be improved because it unjustifiably and needlessly causes panic. Through this registration, sex offenders are made known to the public and thus, are subject to public harassment. Furthermore, the requirement for notification and registration of sex offenders in SORNA surely harbors a negative collateral ramification for the subjects. What is more, public knowledge of the history of the offender will make it hard the particular individual to find a place to live, or work, thus complicating the re-integration of such a person into the community. This further leads to instability and isolation which consequently raises a potential for the person to re-engage in the criminal activities instead of being a productive member (Enniss, 2008).It would be therefore important to re-overlook this policy with a focus of leveraging these negative implications on past-sex offenders. As long as past offenders have paid for their sins and remain law abiding, there is no reason why they should continue to be humiliated.
In essence, the SORNA act offers a wide range of basic standards for registration and notification of sex offender in America. It was introduced for the purpose of filling in the possible loopholes and gaps that were evident in the previous law alongside reinforcing the national network of notification and registration of sex offender programs. In this act, sex offenders are required to ensure that their details are duly registered and that such information is current. In addition, they are expected to appear in person to assigned authorities to update and verify their registration information. Another change introduced by SORNA was extension of the jurisdictions beyond the formerly 50 to include the District of Columbia and Indian tribes which are recognized by the United States government (Zevitz, Farkas, 2000).
The SORNA ACT was passed by the United States Congress in 2006 under title 1 of the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection. The law was formulated twenty five years after the death of Adam Walsh, a boy aged 6 years who was kidnapped in a shopping mall in Florida and later found dead. Although the possible perpetrator was never found, the case was closed by the Florida police in 2008 after establishing that a serial killer who had been convicted and died while in prison could have been behind the act (Enniss, 2008).
SORNA is applicable in all the US states, Columbia, US territories in the Pacific and to the Native American ethnicities and races. The US Department of Justice is mandated to monitor each jurisdiction’s compliance and present regular report on the same. Each state has a mandate to define for itself what comprises sex offenses alongside the appropriate penalty for the same. However, under SORNA sex offenses are categorized into three “tiers” depending on aggravating circumstances, length of prison term, the victim’s age among other factors. Every tier imposes specific requirements on the reporting of offenders (Beck, and Travis, 2004).
Evidence on the Negative Effect of SORNA
A survey conducted by the United States Department of Justice (2007) in regard to the efficacy of SORNA confirms our position on its irrelevance in terms of addressing its objectives. According to this agency, the effectiveness of registration and notification program of sex offenders depends on having in place effective mechanisms for monitoring registrants as they move across jurisdictions. The commission argues that the effectiveness of sex offender registration is further hindered by the mobility of the population. In particular, there has been a tendency for sex offenders to disappear from the jurisdictions in which they registered to another one, whether they are not known.
A study by Prescott and Rockoff (2008) focused on finding out how sex offender notification and registration law affected criminal behavior. The authors employed detailed information on the scope and timing of changes in the law of each state in studying the impact of SORNA on the rate of sex offenses. Findings from this study establish that there is a decrease in crime associated with application of this program. However, this decline in crime is concentrated around local victims (such as acquaintances, friends, neighbors) and specifically against strangers. This is to me that although sex offenders may be restrained from repeating the same crime, the restraint is only towards people of closer contact. This means that were they to move to another location, where they are not much known, there is a more likelihood that they will repeat similar offenses. The researchers find evidence that despite notification program deterring crime especially for first-time sex offenders, it increases recidivism by offenders owing to the change in the relative utility of illegal and legal behavior. This effect was not anticipated by legislators while drafting the law. The finding aligns well with the view of criminologists who argue that notification harbors a potential of increasing recidivism among offenders. According to criminologists, recidivism is increased because notification imposes financial and social costs on registered sex offenders and thus, making non criminal operations to be less appealing (Pawson, 2002). The finding should be regarded as important if we take into account that the role of notification and registration was to reduce recidivism among sex criminals.
On their part, Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyopadhyay, Sinha, and Armstrong (2010) conducted an evaluation on the efficacy of sex offender notification policy in reducing sexual offenses against women in the context of South Carolina. The authors went on to note that SORNA had indeed contributed positively in regard to deterring sexual offenses with at least three first time cases being deterred per month. However, the SORN policy in South Carolina did not have an impact in terms of reducing sexual recidivism among offenders. Furthermore, the researchers established that the program exerted unintended influence on the judiciary’s decision making particularly on cases involving adult sex offense cases. The stipulations in the South Carolina’s SORN policy required defendants for sex crimes to plead to non-sex charges so that they can be accorded the “privilege” of registration and notification and may be acquittal. This could subsequently reduce community safety owing to increased probability that defendants were acquitted after pleading guilty to non-sex crimes. Furthermore, the researchers did not find evidence those offenders who did not register were dangerous when compared to their compliant counterparts.
One of the biggest challenges and changes which SORNA has brought about was the requirement that jurisdictions incorporate a system of classifying sex offenders under “tiers” on the basis of the offense of conviction. These broad categories that classify offenses based past history and offenses instead of conducting an individualized risk evaluation leads to registries which are over-inclusive and offer the public with insufficient information concerning which offender carries an actual risk to the society. The fact that all sex offenders is expected to register for a considerable time period creates a likelihood of registries for sex offenses becoming voluminous over a given time. There is also a like hood of members of the public generalizing sex offenders and fail to appreciate the fact that some offenders have a higher likelihood of recidivating compared with others, thus limiting the utility and relevance of the registry (Presser, and,Gunnison, 1999).
This analysis reveals that although SORNA has had a number of benefits particularly regarding improvement of community safety, its negative impact on sex offenders cannot be overemphasized. Apart from creating unnecessary tension both on the offender and the community, it does little to reduce criminal behavior of sex offenders. Natural justice dictates that there is no point to continue subjecting an individual to humiliation or embarrassment especially after they have paid their debt to the society. These sentiments have been backed by studies which establish that indeed, registration and notification do not deter recidivism especially among repeat offenders. It is therefore a high time for the legislators to rethink on the need to abolish this place and come up with a formidable measure to help sex offender’s change their behavior.
The best way to identify the potential for recidivism among sex offenders would be conducting an empirically derived risk evaluation. This should be base on personal interaction and interviewing the perpetrator by a professional health worker. In the clinical approach, offenders are subjected to personal interviews by experienced clinicians in whom they are asked questions ranging from their victimizations, their relationship with members of their families, their childhood behavior, and their sexual orientations among other things. The professional then goes ahead to employ one of the various risk evaluation tools including but not limited to The Progress and Needs scale for the sex offender, the Static-2002R, the Static-99R, the Violence Risk Scale-Sex Offender Version, the Structured Model in risk assessment, and the Sex Offender Scale for Progress and Treatment Intervention among other instruments (Wollert, 2006). This should provide a prediction for the likelihood of recidivism that is more accurate compared to offence- based classification by SORNA.
Edwards, W. & Hensley, C., Contextualizing sex offender management legislation and policy:
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Enniss, B. (2008). Quickly Assuaging Public Fear: How the Well-Intended Adam Walsh Act Led
to Unintended Consequences, 2008 Utah L. Rev. 697, 717 (2008).
Levenson, E., Bandyopadhyay, D., Sinha, D., and Armstrong, K. (2010). Evaluating the
effectiveness of sex offender registration and notification policies for reducing sexual violence against women. U.S Department of Justice. Available from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/231989.pdf
United States Department of Justice (2007). The national guideline for the sex offender
registration and notification. Available from https://www.justice.gov/archive/tribal/docs/fv_tjs/session_3/session3_presentations/Sex_Offender_Guidelines.pdf
Presser, L. & Gunnison E., Strange bedfellows: Is Sex Offender Notification a Form of
Community Justice?, Crime & Delinquency, 45 299–316 (1999)
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Criminal Behavior? J. L. & Econ.(54) (1) 161-206.
Available from https://www.law.virginia.edu/pdf/olin/0708/prescott.pdf
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Victimization,” Journal of Criminal Justice 32(): 455-463
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Used to Identify Sexually Violent Predators: An Application of Bayes’s Theorem, Pub. Pol’y, & L. 56