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Does the sex offender registry lower the rate of sex crimes?

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2020 | Criminal Defense

The Pennsylvania sex offender registry law was largely well-intended. The idea was that if parents knew about any convicted sex offenders living in their communities, they could take appropriate action to keep their children safe. Instead, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, there is no actual data that proves the law is preventing sex crimes. 

So, what is the law doing? Many believe that the publicly-available registry only ruins the reputations of those on the list, which studies show have a very slim likelihood of repeating the offense. 

Why was the registry started? 

Psychology today recalls the horrific history of a little girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a neighbor. The man was already a repeat offender and had recently been in prison. 

Understandably, the entire nation reeled at what many believed was a preventable crime. Eventually, legislators put laws into place that required each state to create a public registry of all convicted sex offenders, including where they lived. 

Why is it ineffective? 

One purpose of the sex offender registry was to deter would-be offenders and repeat offenders. However, only two studies out of dozens show localized decreases in repeat sexual assaults after the law originated. 

The majority of data shows mixed results in the frequency of sexual assaults since the inception of sex offender registries, and many researchers conclude that this “protection” is doing virtually nothing to prevent sex crimes. There are several reasons why theorists think that the registry does not work: 

  • Investigation finds that most of the list entries contain some error 
  • Studies show that as many as 95% of sex offenders do not re-offend 
  • Over 90% of child sex offenders are relatives, neighbors or friends 

Some data even indicates that the stress of ostracization could push a registrant into committing another offense. It stands to reason: if the sex offender registry is not working, then is it worth destroying reputations to make a community feel safe?