The Debate Over Sex Offender Community Notification
Registration makes information about sex offenders available to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to facilitate criminal investigations. Notification goes further by making information about individual sex offenders accessible, either freely or by request, to individuals and organizations in the community. The proliferation of community notification laws clearly reflects a public perception that registration alone is inadequate to protect against released sex offenders. But, community notification is controversial because it makes public certain, typically protected, criminal justice information. The information available to the public and the method of distribution varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. To assist in understanding the controversy, the table below outlines some of the basic pros and cons of community notification.
|The threat of notification can act as a catalyst for sex offenders to participate in treatment and comply with conditions of probation/parole.
||Notification may incite excessive community fear or anger, resulting in vigilantism or other criminal activity.
|Notification may encourage community members to report suspicious behavior, thereby suppressing criminal behavior. Likewise, the presence of notification may deter future acts of sexual violence because increased surveillance leads to a greater risk of detection.
||Notification may create a false sense of security in communities, leading residents to conclude they know about the sex offenders in their midst when, in fact, a resident is more likely to be sexually abused by a parent, relative, or acquaintance than by a stranger. *
|Being able to warn residents about a sex offender may prevent those residents from becoming victims.
||Notification and registration lists can lead the public to believe these (registered) sex offenders are the most dangerous. Since rape is the most underreported crime, most sex offenders never come to the attention of authorities. **
|Notification can be a useful tool for educating the public about sex offenders, revealing specific risk behaviors and correcting false rumors and assumptions.
||General, nonspecific notification may cause offenders to change their residence without registering again (referred to as "going underground"), or may encourage them to offend in areas outside the notification zone.
|Notification can improve communication and promote interaction between the criminal justice system and the community through collaborative sex crime education and prevention activities.
||Sex offender registries may contain inaccurate or outdated address information because the ongoing verification of address information requires significant law enforcement resources. Even when addresses are verified on-site, the offender may relocate the next day.
|Notification can increase criminal justice collaboration and coordination, bringing together probation, parole, law enforcement, prosecutors, and the victim community, making public safety activities more effective.
Pro & Con Notes: * According to Rape in America: Report to the Nation (Crime Victims Resource and Treatment
Center, 1992), 22% of sexual assaults were committed by strangers, 46% were committed by
relatives, and 29% were committed by acquaintances (3% refused to answer). 84% of these
victims did not report the crime to the police. ** Rape in America: Report to the Nation reported that fewer than 15% of women surveyed
who survived a sexual assault reported the crime to the police.
Source: Finn, P. (1997). Sex Offender Community Notification. U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.
Sex Offender Community Notification in Colorado
Sex offender registries are active in all fifty
states, and all but three states (NM, NB, KY) have enacted some form of sex offender
community notification. Sex offender registration and notification are encouraged at the
Federal level by the Wetterling Act.
Colorado has had sex offender registration laws in effect since 1994. Currently, Colorado
has a passive community notification system which allows citizens to access sex offender
registries through law enforcement upon request. This year the Colorado Legislature passed
a bill (HB99-1260, sponsored by Representative Tool and Senator Anderson) proposing active
community notification. This bill outlines a community notification system based on
offender risk and grounded in community education. Under the new law, local law
enforcement will lead education teams into communities to proactively notify citizens of
high risk sex offenders living nearby.
Source: Finn, P. (1997). Sex
Offender Community Notification. U.S. department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, National Institute of Justice.