While some argue that public sex offender registries reduce crimes, their effectiveness has yet to be proven. While the Adam Walsh Act argues that registries help curb sexual crime, it also ignores research on how these registries work. The public registry’s purpose is to identify convicted sex offenders, not to protect vulnerable neighbors from violent criminals. As a result, public registries are ineffective in reducing crime.
Some registrants are barred from living near public areas, such as parks, playgrounds, and child-care centers. Others can no longer rent homes in certain neighborhoods, and they must live within certain distances from schools, churches, and other public spaces. This separation can lead to isolation and push sex offenders toward recidivism. In addition, registrants are also not permitted to register in some neighborhoods.
Although the number of reported sex crimes is reducing, the actual rate is much higher. This is largely due to the fact that most crimes against children occur between five and 25 percent of the time. Recidivism rates are much lower among sex offenders. And the majority of sex offenders commit similar crimes only once. As such, the negative stigma imposed on sex offenders is unfair to those who commit sexual crimes.
In addition to the public viewing of sex offender registries, law enforcement agencies are now required to notify the public when a registered sex offender registers. While most states do not have mandatory public notification requirements, some do. For example, in Arkansas, “Level Three” registrants are banned from swimming pools, state park playgrounds, and ice cream trucks. Additionally, they can no longer loiter in the vicinity of public libraries.
However, public registries do not solve the problem. The stigma associated with being a sex offender remains, even after a victim has submitted his or her name on a public registry. Further, the public registries’ public access to the offender’s name and address is not guaranteed. Registries can be detrimental to a person’s future reintegration and development, and can impede his or her ability to find a job or get an education.
The presence of convicted juveniles on sex offender registries is not beneficial for the public, as they are often not monitored by the courts. As a result, the registry clutter increases and makes it difficult to monitor dangerous sex offenders. In fact, a single incident of kidnapping in Arizona led to Phillip Garrido being on the sex offender registry for 18 years.
As a result of the Adam Walsh Protection Act, state registries have become more widespread. While the Adam Walsh Act emphasized the importance of these registries, the law also made it a federal crime to fail to register a sex offender. In addition, it has mandated the creation of a national database of convicted sex offenders. Since then, states are increasingly implementing registries, and the trend has expanded beyond the United States.