Now you can look up sex offenders in your neighborhood on Facebook
The state made the announcement on Monday. In the press release Department of Criminal Justice Services Deputy Commissioner Risa Sugarman said, “This tool makes the information available on the Registry much more dynamic and readily accessible, which will enhance community safety.”
The next time a politician uses sex offenders to make headlines or bolster his campaign, the media needs to ask if knowing about the sex offender next door actually makes us safer.Two recent studies
cast doubt on their effectiveness and suggest the use of public registries may even cause harm
A study by a University of Chicago doctoral student found no drop in sex crimes before and after the registries went into effect. The study also found no significant effect on recidivism among sex offenders who had to register. Offenders who had to register were slightly more likely to re-offend.
Another study out of the Columbia Business School and University of Michigan found that sex offender registries are good at keeping convicts on the straight and narrow – if there’s no public notification component. Sex offenders who are publicly shamed find the cost of re-offending outweigh the benefits of staying out of trouble. The sex offenders felt had nothing to lose by going back to prison.
Why aren’t there databases for arsonists, thieves, drug dealers and violent felons? Because we assume people aren’t as likely to commit those crimes again. We assume those crimes don’t involve children. Sex offenders are the easiest target for public scorn, outrage and fear.
Public databases may make us feel safer, but it may be time to take a step back and see if they’re actually doing the job.