sex offender registry is a system that is designed to allow government and law
officials to keep track of the whereabouts and activities of a sex offender.
Within the criminal justice system it is important to focus on the system of practices
and institutions that uphold social control, the
three major concepts when focusing on sex offenders and sex offender registries
is dealing with the three aspects of incapacitation, specific deterrence,
when an individual commits a crime incapacitation is the first response.
By incapacitating the offender this prevents said individual from committing
future crimes, because the convicted individual is now locked up and removed
from society and is restrained.
deterrence is a form of punishment within the criminal justice system that is
focused on discouraging criminal behavior within a certain individual from
committing that crime again. Rehabilitation is
the reintegration of a convicted individual into society this can happen after
a person is convicted or can be used as an alternative to prison time.
Severity of the punishment and the certainty of punishment can be used to
determine the effectiveness of the punishment. This
research paper will focus on the societal view of sex offenders and determine
whether the mandatory laws of registration and notification are detrimental to
the registered individuals and their surrounding community or does it help
lower recidivism rates among sex offenders.
is considered a type of theory, it focuses on
the behavioral psychology about preventing certain behaviors or actions through
fear or the punishment or consequence. The program of sex offender registries
is considered the literal definition of deterrence,
the point of sex offender registries is to monitor the whereabouts of sex
offenders and notify the public that they have a registered sex offender in
their community. However the most
important question here is will notification do more harm than good?
Notification promotes public safety by holding offenders accountable but it
also reveals that sex offender registration and notification laws are ill
considered, poorly crafted, and actually does
cause more harm than good (Tofte &
Fellner 2007). With this being said,
research shows that registration and notification laws tend to become very
harsh to those who register but pose no safety risk like for example teenagers
who have consensual sex with each other or urinating in public.
This can create constant threats of harassment,
physical assault, and property damage
psychological stressors like depression and hopelessness for sex offenders who
live in a residential area also by having residency restrictions from entire
urban areas it can force former offenders to move far away from their families (Tofte
& Fellner 2007).
Peter Finn discusses responses of a group of respondents during an evaluation
study on the effectiveness of notification,
the group of respondents agreed that notification should be seen as only one
one component is that addressing recidivism rates among sex offenders should be
top priority, it should include close supervision,
treatment, polygraph testing, and working to
educate the community about suspicious offender behavior (Finn,
Finn agrees that the effectiveness of notification would only work if it is
accompanied by extensive community training that are carried out by specialists
such as police officers, probation officers,
or even prosecutors. “Research done on the
deterrence of criminal behavior through legal sanctions and threat of
punishment is relevant and tends to be consistent with social learning” (Akers,
1990). Criminologist Ronald Akers believes that criminal behavior is only the
tip of the iceberg, this is because there are many sanctions placed on sex
offenders whether they are registered or were convicted. Akers believes that it
is hard for most offenders to reintegrate back into a community setting and to
have a normal role in society because society has a way of penalizing and
shunning out those who they do not deem as “normal”.
The longer society continues to support unreliable
and flawed ideas regarding sex offenders the more deep rooted the sex offender
label will become, accurate data and critical thinking is most important while
implementing such things as notification and registration laws being that these
laws should be designed to rehabilitate and change ones behavior for the
both articles those of Finn and Tofte & Fellner these authors do bring up great
points, registration and notification laws are great at notifying the community
of sex offenders in their neighborhood. However, it also creates moral panic
and public fear with this label it dictates where some individuals live or work
this is due to registry restrictions. Both Finn and Tofte & Fellner agree
that educating the community on how notification and registration laws work and
to learn the difference between violent and non-violent sex offenders, these
practices can not only save these registered individuals from psychological
harm that these laws can create but the public will have a better understanding
of those who are a threat to safety in their neighborhood and those who pose no
of sex offenders were required to register their information with local law
enforcement agencies across the United States.
The labeling of sex offenders via the sex offender registry has become so
mainstream that even children are aware of what houses to avoid in their
neighborhoods.” (Schultz, 2014)
criminology, the labeling theory is exhibited
as how the past acts and behaviors of individuals can be used to describe or
classify them. It is very similar to stereotyping
an individual, the idea behind the labeling
theory is that it does not hold much as a deviance tool but what it does do is
negatively label those who are seen as
deviant from ideal cultural norms.
For example it is the belief that if one is labeled as a deviant or a menace to
society the more likely it is for said individual to engage in unorthodox
activity or behavior. Labeling theory is an
important approach in understanding the difference between deviant behavior and
criminal behavior, this is where Finn’s
argument of educating the community on sex offenders comes into play.
Labeling is damaging to the sex offender and the safety of the community as a
To understand the differences between deviant
and criminal behavior we must understand why some people are labeled as a
deviant and why others are not.
who represent what is deemed to be the body of law and order for example police
officers, firemen, teachers, etc…are considered to represent “normal behavior”.
By applying labels on sex offenders this reinforces the power structure of
society, in other words the more dominant groups in society create and apply
deviant labels to secondary groups i.e. (by men for women, by wealthy people
for poor people, by ethnic and racial majorities for minority groups.) In this
case here it would be the community versus the sex offender, this creates open
space or the criminal justice system and communities to stigmatize the
are created by labels by marking an individual as criminal, immoral, evil, or
even inferior then create negative societal reactions. In society once a person
is labeled as a deviant it becomes supremely difficult to remove that label,
the said deviant person becomes stigmatized as a criminal and is more likely to
be treated and considered untrustworthy to others. This stigmatization can be understood
by many sex offenders they become an outcast this becomes an issue because when
this said individual starts to accept and see themselves as a deviant and in a way
they start to satisfy the needs of this label and therefore becoming a
can be many critiques made of the labeling theory and how it affects sex
offenders, one major critique of that the labeling theory does not make clear
whether or not labeling has an effect of increasing or decreasing deviant
behavior. This becomes difficult simply because there are a lot of factors that
are involved in the processes and structures that lead to the deviant behaviors,
and it affects these registered individuals with experiences like shame, housing
struggles, lack of better opportunities and loss of social capital
choice theory adopts more of a utilitarian ideology that man is a reasoning
actor who weighs his means and ends, costs and benefits, and then makes a
and Clarke came up with this theory, stating that crime is a purposive behavior
this means that a criminal offender’s behavior is designed to meet the needs of
the offender whether it be things as money, recognition, sex or just the
adrenaline rush of committing the crime (Cornish and Clarke,1986). This theory proves
that registered individuals who reoffend do weigh the risk and benefits of
their crime however, it does not show that their evaluation of these risks and
benefits entirely rational being. But why is that?
normal rational thinking person would weigh their risks and benefits before
doing something wrong and realize that the consequences of the crime is not
worth it. However, within the criminal mind this individual will weigh the same
risks and still commit the crime anyway only realizing that their needs is much
bigger than the consequences of the crime. This can be true for some offenders
but not all, as the labeling theory has proven with experiences like shame, housing
struggles, lack of better opportunities and loss of social capital it can take
an psychological toll on a registered individual.
there are so many other options than to recidivate but what most people do not
know is registered sex offenders even convicted sex offenders face the same obstacles
that any former convict (that committed other crimes besides sexual assault) will
face. The moral fear among communities is that the recidivism rates for sex
offenders is high when that actually is the complete opposite it is actually
quite low. Restrictions that are placed on sex offenders through registration
and notification laws that create barriers into societal reintegration is what
can trigger recidivism, when the experiences of the registered individual is
considered it shows that registration and notification laws have unintended consequences
of encouraging recidivism rather than decreasing them (Schultz, 2014).
choice theory helps us ask very important questions like: Why do certain sex
offenders recidivate and not others? Can criminal activity be predicted? How
can crime and reoffending be prevented? But the most important question that should be
asked here is how do we rehabilitate and treat registered sex offenders? Not
Both of these methods
can be considered whilst determining can this be used as a deterrence factor.
broader research on the study of sex offenders and the effect of sex offender
registries it is shown that yes, requiring sex offenders to register with law
officials and notifying the public of where they reside can make the public
that is all it can really do make us feel safe.
There are studies showing that sex offenders who do register can reduce their
chances of reoffending significantly however the information that is put out
there by notifying the public can also backfire.
Some offenders may feel like they have nothing left to lose if they reoffend
when all of their information becomes public it creates a stigma which affects
their social, psychological and social aspect of
their lives. This is where the Labeling Theory
and the Rational Choice Theory comes into play, while
public notification can deter first time sex offenders from committing a crime
again offenders who are released are more likely to reoffend simply because
they are labeled a criminal by society.
offenders who reoffend most likely feel a sense of hopelessness and start to
believe the labels that are being placed on them in society they then begin to
fulfill the actions and behaviors that are expected of said label.
study was not meant to condemn the sex offenders who reoffend nor create
sympathy to those who commit unspeakable sexual assault crimes but to bring
more social awareness to the issue that applying labels on those who committed
a crime or served time punishes them twice. Without
the proper training or rehabilitation of those who made a mistake and wants to
change their life around it makes it harder for the formerly convicted to learn
any skills to go out into the real world and reintegrate back into society.