More on sex-offender registry flaws

California’s sex-offender registry is growing much faster than the number of law enforcement people who can monitor the people on it, the Wall Street Journal reports. Not all offenders on the list pose the same level of risk, and law enforcement people say that much more helpful than a list of every possible level of offender on it would be one listing only the highest-risk offenders. “California’s sex-offender registry has ballooned to more than 90,000 people now from about 45,000 in 1994,” the Journal reports, adding that a December study of some 20,000 RSOs on parole found that only “9% posed a ‘high risk’ of reoffending, and 29% posed a ‘moderate-high’ to ‘high’ risk.” Meanwhile, “law-enforcement officials and academics say vast resources are spent monitoring nonviolent offenders rather than keeping closer tabs on more-dangerous ones.”

In “Prevention of childhood sexual abuse,” soon to be published in The Future of Children, David Finkelhor refers to sex-offender registries as representing one of the main strategies our society has for preventing abuse and points to its flaws. It’s “based on an overly stereotyped characterization of sexual abusers as pedophiles, guileful strangers who prey on children in public and other easy-access environments and who are at high risk to re-offend once caught. In reality,” says the director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, “the population is much more diverse. Most sexual abusers are not strangers or pedophiles; many (about a third) are themselves juveniles. Many have relatively low risks for re-offending once caught.” Dr. Finkelhor adds that possibly the greatest shortcoming of current “offender management” efforts is that “only a small percentage of new offenders have a prior sex offense record” that would have put them in sex-offender registries. As if to confirm the findings in the Wall Street Journal piece above, Finkelhor “recommends using law enforcement resources to catch more undetected offenders and concentrating intensive management efforts on those at highest risk to re-offend.” This preview of Finkelhor’s article is at [See also my earlier post about a recent report on this in The Economist.]

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