Diane Rehm Show Looks at Sex Offender Registries

If you missed the superb National Public Radio show today on sex offender public registries, you can hear it now at this link: https://thedianerehmshow.org/audio/#/shows/2015-07-07/sex-offender-registries-and-calls-for-reform/110574/@00:00 . Talk show host Host Diane Rehm invited these four experts to debate an issue almost always driven by fear mongering. 

  •  Abbe Smith, professor of law and co-director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship program at Georgetown University; author of "Case of a Lifetime."
  •  Jill Levenson, clinical social worker and associate professor, social work, Barry University.
  • Brenda V. Jones, executive director, Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc
  • Victor Vieth, founder and senior director, Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center

If you don’t have time to listen to the program, you can catch the flavor of it by looking over this fact sheet posted on the Gunderson National Child Protection Center, which panelist Vieth heads.  For many years Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform has been saying many of the same things as these and other leading child advocates.

FAQ About Sex Offenders

How do these laws affect me?

There are multiple laws that have been passed since 1996 that were put in place to protect children and communities from those who have committed a sexual offense and have been assigned a risk level. They will not protect children from all those who sexually offend, especially those not yet reported or those not yet convicted of a crime. Collaboratively, these laws have established a public database, empowering residents to search for convicted sex offenders with an assigned risk level in their neighborhood. Keep in mind, these are only the known, convicted sex offenders not those who are still unknown to the community. In addition, community officials are responsible for notifying the community when a Level Three sex­ offender moves into the area. When a Level Two sex offender moves into the area, schools and daycares are notified, but not the public at large.

Why are there so many different laws?

Think of each new law as "a building block" on a previous law. Various elements are included in different laws such as Jacob's Law, Megan's Law, Katie's Law, Dru's Law and now the Adam Walsh Act which was passed in 2007. Each new law tends to address unique circumstances or perhaps a loophole that may not have been covered in previous legislation.

How does "Community Notification" work?

The chief of police in the city where the released sex offender will be residing chooses to host a community notification meeting or to post information on a web site to inform and educate the public. Residents are encouraged to periodically search the internet to determine if any sex offenders live in their area, however the vast majority of those who sexually offend are not listed in a sex offender registry. Most often, they are known to families or communities and may not have been reported or convicted of previous crimes.

Why is a convicted sex offender moving into my community?

The offender was found guilty or plead guilty to the sex offense for which they were charged. When an offender is released from prison, they often return to the same residence they lived in when the crime was committed because of family support structures and/or a family member's offer of a home to live in. Once an offender has completed their sentence the state does not necessarily have any control over where they choose to live. Currently, the State of Minnesota does not have residency restriction laws enacted and although research on this issue is limited, their has been little evidence thus far that suggests that such legislation would be effective at enhancing community safety.

When will I be notified if a sex­ offender is moving into my community?

When sex­ offenders with specific convictions are released from prison they are assigned a risk level through an End of Confinement Review Committee (ECRC). The assigned risk level is based on a series of assessments which attempt to predict their likelihood to re­offend. The public is notified if a Level 3 sex offender (higher risk and most likely to re­offend) moves into their area. If a Level 2 sex offender moves into the area, only organizations that have direct involvement with children are notified (schools, daycares or groups dealing with victims of sexual abuse).

Will I be told if or when the offender moves out of my neighborhood?

Law enforcement does not have a legal obligation to inform residents if an offender relocates to another community; however, the Minnesota Department of Corrections maintains a public website that can identify if a Level 3 sex offender is currently living in a specific geographic region.

If a sex­ offender is likely to re­offend, why is he/she released?

In Minnesota, there are sentencing guidelines that judges must adhere to when sentencing a convicted sex offender. After the sex offender has completed all or most of their prison time, they must be released into the community for a second chance. Research shows that less than 10 percent of released, convicted sex offenders in Minnesota will be convicted of another sexual offense and that a good support system will help improve their chances of a healthy re­entry into society (stable home, job and network of acquaintances).

A sex offender moved close to my child's school. Aren't they supposed to stay a certain distance away from places with children?

Minnesota does not have residency restriction laws; there is no hard-and-fast rule about where sex offenders can live once they're released. However, the committee that assigns risk levels to offenders being released can require offenders on a case-by-case basis to have no contact with children, refrain from using social networking sites, or other restrictions, depending on that offender's history.

Why should we give sex offenders a second chance…shouldn't we just lock every one up forever?

There is a continuum of sex offenders, approximately half of them being adults with the other half juveniles. There is no "one size fits all", as often portrayed in the media. Sex offenders commit a wide range of offenses, sometimes once and sometimes many times. Most sexual offenses are coercive or enticing by nature while fewer are more violent or heinous in many respects. The vast majority of sexual crimes are first­ time offenders and may be someone the victim cares about which is why the majority of sex crimes are never reported. Because the media is more likely to cover the more heinous and violent crimes, the public often assumes these are "the norm" when they are not. With nearly half of all offenders being juveniles, we must get to the root causes of sexual violence in an effort to help our young people. Otherwise, we are not getting to the source of the problem to reduce the number of offenses long term. Trying to punish our way out of this problem, will simply not work.

Who's most likely to sexually offend against children and communities?

Those least likely to sexually offend are complete strangers to the victim, contrary to public beliefs. Most often, the sexual perpetrator is a known, trusted person to the family, the victim, the neighborhood or the community or workplace.

What should I do if I think that the offender is acting suspiciously or violating the terms of their release?

If you suspect that the offender has committed a crime call law enforcement (911). If you observe the offender acting suspiciously, call law enforcement (911). Do not hesitate to call the police even if you are unsure as to the nature of their behavior. Ultimately, it is better to call police and let them evaluate if the offender is acting within the terms of their release.