A July report issued by the US Department of Justice’s SMART office (Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking) backed up most of what advocacy groups such as the Florida Action Committee have been saying for years; that the current sex offender management policies largely ignore empirical evidence as to what works and what does not and the laws are ineffective.
What the report confirms is that many policies are passed based on what is perceived as popular public wishes, but completely ineffective when it comes to improving public safety or making efficient use of resources.
Some highlights from the report were that intensive supervision without treatment is ineffective, thereby debunking the myth that “treatment doesn’t work”.
The COSA (Circles of Accountability and Support) model, where prior offenders are re-introduced to the community with a support system of volunteers who help them get re-situated in the community works, thereby proving that in order to be successful, prior offenders need a support system and should not be isolated and driven to the fringes of society.
The use of Polygraphs showed “no significant differences in sexual recidivism between polygraphed and non polygraphed sex offenders”, thereby demonstrating that the polygraphs are investigative tools and not a treatment tool. GPS use also showed no significant reductions in recidivism.
Sex offender Registration and Notification (ie: public registries) were also found to be ineffective by a majority of the studies in the report, however, what was also interestingly pointed out by the US Department of Justice Report was that, “8 percent of sex offenders reported physical assault or injury, 14 percent reported property damage, 20 percent reported being threatened or harassed, 30 percent reported job loss, 19 percent reported loss of housing, 16 percent reported a family member or roommate being harassed or assaulted, and 40 to 60 percent reported negative psychological consequences.” For an agency whose task it is to reduce crime, it would seem as though this would be counter to their objectives.
With respect to residency restrictions, there is little empirical evidence to show other than, “no significant decreases in sex crime rates following the implementation of residence restrictions” but to the contrary, an increase in homelessness, loss of family support and financial hardships. The report itself states, “evidence is fairly clear that residence restrictions are not effective. In fact, the research suggests that residence restrictions may actually increase offender risk by undermining offender stability and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work, and family support. There is nothing to suggest this policy should be used at this time.”
For the past decades, advocacy groups have been desperately trying to get our government to listen to us, to listen to the experts and to listen to the evidence. Now, let’s see if they listen to themselves.