Convicted sex offender registries have been widespread since the 1990s, but are slated to expand significantly under the Adam Walsh Act by July 2010. Child sexual abuse prevention experts say the public develops a false sense of security from registries, since at least 80 percent of children are assaulted by someone they know and perhaps 30 percent of offenders are identified to authorities. Are convicted offenders deterred by registries? Research on that issue is expected to be published in the journal “Sexual Abuse” in fall 2009.
Community notification statutes authorize or require public notification when certain offenders change addresses or are released from prison. More than two-thirds of respondents polled (68 percent) in a Washington state survey said notification led them to learn more about sex offenses and how sex offenders operate. Analysis by the National Institute of Justice finds that law enforcement and correction agencies face budgetary and resource challenges in enforcing notification rules.
Residency restrictions typically prohibit convicted offenders from living near places where children congregate, such as schools, parks and public housing. In a report to the Florida Legislature, Lynn University researcher Jill Levenson said broad restrictions ignore important data, including that most sex offenders don’t re-offend and that mental health treatment may further reduce risk of re-offense.
Civil containment laws for the continued confinement or treatment of a convicted sexually violent offender who has completed his court sentence exist in some states. A 2007 investigation by The New York Times concluded that commitment programs were “expensive and largely unproven,” and subject to little oversight.
Electronic monitoring (GPS or radio-frequency controlled) of registered sex offenders exists in nearly half of states, and the 2006 Adam Walsh Act supports pilot monitoring programs. The International Association of Chiefs of Police explains the devices in this report.Such systems can monitor whereabouts, but not the person’s actions. For instance, last February a homeless sex offender who was wearing an electronic monitoring device killed a 13-year-old girl in Washington state.
Chemical castration is a court-ordered drug treatment to lower testosterone and the intensity of sexual urges; it is not a permanent surgical castration. California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana and Texas have laws supporting chemical castration, according to The Tuscaloosa News.
Death penalty for child sex offenders. Last June the Supreme Court overturned laws in five states calling for the death penalty for child rapists. One key argument by child sexual abuse prevention experts was that such a harsh penalty might deter families from reporting child sex crimes, since most are committed by someone the child knows.