We now have added "Informational Posts" which are tidbits of information that may come in handy at some point.

Sex Offender Community Notification


A large and increasing number of prison inmates are sexual offenders. State prisons held 20,500 sex offenders in 1980, 63,600 in 1990, and 88,100 in 1994.1 They grew not only in number but also as a percentage of a burgeoning State prison population: 6.9 percent of 295,819 inmates in 1980; 9.7 percent of 906,112 in 1994.2 At least 20 percent of the adult prison population in ten States were sex offenders in 1991.3 Although community inpatient and outpatient programs that specialize in treating sex offenders have proliferated,4 few incarcerated sex offenders receive treatment.5 Furthermore, there has been insufficient research to establish consistent estimates of recidivism6 or identify which treatment is effective for what type of sex offender.7

At the same time that media attention and school programs may have increased public awareness of these findings, 8 a series of highly publicized violent sex offenses committed on unsuspecting victims by released sex offenders has heightened the public’s determination to take action to prevent these individuals from committing new crimes. In response to this heightened public awareness, by August 1995, 43 States had enacted statutes that require offenders to register with a central registry agency or with the law enforcement agency in the community in which they will be living.9 Sixteen States passed their laws in 1994 alone.10 (See “Principal Features of Sex Offender Registration Laws.”) Through a provision that would withhold funding from States that do not implement sex offender registration programs, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act has hastened the enactment of registration statutes and may result in their passage in every State.11

Registration legislation is intended to deter offenders from committing new offenses and create a registry to assist law enforcement investigations.12 A 15-year follow-up study of California’s registration statute found that police investigators reported that the State’s registration system was effective in helping them to apprehend suspected offenders.13

As of early 1996, at least 32 States had taken the additional step of enacting notification statutes that either make information about sex offenders available on request to individuals and organizations or that authorize or require probation and parole departments, law enforcement agencies, or prosecutor offices to disseminate information about released offenders to the community at large.14 Community notification reflects the perception that registration alone is inadequate to protect the public against released sex offenders and that notification provides the public with a better means of protecting itself.

Notification proponents believe that, by informing the public about the presence of a sex offender in the community, neighbors will be able to take action to protect themselves from sex offenders by keeping themselves—and their children— out of harm’s way. As a result, notification, according to one commentator, “could prevent some tragedies from happening again.”15 Notification is also thought to improve public safety because the public will be able to identify and report risky behaviors by sex offenders (e.g., conversing with children, buying sex-oriented magazines) that might escalate into criminal behavior if ignored.

This Research in Action summarizes what is known about a sample of notification statutes and implementation procedures and presents the views of selected practitioners and experts regarding effective legislative provisions and notification approaches. This limited review of statutes, procedures, and informed opinion may assist legislators, prosecutor offices, probation and parole agencies, and law enforcement agencies interested in designing, operating, or improving a notification system.

The information in this report is based on a literature search and telephone interviews with 13 practitioners (probation officers, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors) in eight States and two experts (individuals familiar with notification statutes and procedures in several States).


There is tremendous diversity among existing State community notification statutes. Furthermore, different agencies responsible for carrying out notification within the same State may use very different approaches. There is no empirical evidence that notification is achieving its stated objectives of increasing public safety and assisting law enforcement with sex offender investigations. The one available empirical study found no impact on recidivism. Most practitioners, however, however, believe that the threat of notification is a useful management tool for supervising sex offenders and that notification laws can provide a springboard to educating communities about sex offending. Doing notification is a serious burden on the time of most agencies with the result that other work gets short shrift. Although there have been documented cases of harassment and evictions, the extent to which notification is harmful or unfair to sex offenders, and whether these problems decline over time as some respondents suggested, is unknown.

For the remainder of this report: by Peter Finn

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