Are Sex Offender Laws Backfiring?
A pair of new studies raise questions as to whether sex offender registries and community notification laws actually reduce recidivism of sex offenders, or even lead to lower sex crime rates overall. Both are published in the University of Chicago’s Journal of Law and Economics.
The first study by Jonah Rockoff of Columbia Business School, and J.J. Prescott, a law professor at the University of Michigan, parses out the effectiveness of the two basic types of sex offender laws. While they find that the registration of released sex offenders is associated with a 13% decrease in crime from the sample mean, public notification laws proved to be counterproductive, and led to slightly higher rates of sex crime because of what the authors refer to as a “relative utility effect”:
Our results suggest that community notification deters first-time sex offenders, but may increase recidivism by registered offenders by increasing the relative attractiveness of criminal behavior. This finding is consistent with work by criminologists showing that notification may contribute to recidivism by imposing social and financial costs on registered sex offenders and, as a result, making non-criminal activity relatively less attractive.
…[C]onvicted sex offenders become more likely to commit crime when their information is made public because the associated psychological, social, or financial costs make crime more attractive.