Publish Date: September 2020 | Download PDF |


Registration[1] and community notification[2] with international adoption of these policies expanding to other countries in subsequent years. Federal and local laws in the U.S. and other Western countries require persons who have been convicted of a sexual crime to register their living location and other personal information with a local law enforcement agency on a regular basis. This requirement varies in its duration, but in many cases can continue for the rest of the registrant’s life. For the majority of registrants in the U.S., the information is posted on the internet and available to the general public – the most common form of community notification. Failure of the adult registrant to comply with these laws is a crime and, in many cases, non-compliance can result in a period of incarceration that is longer than the sentence for the sexual offense. Given the significant expansion of sex offender registries in the U.S. and around the world, a review of the research and best practices can provide needed guidance to policymakers, legislators, and front-line registry officials on these important issues.

The purpose of this paper is to review the emergence and development of sexual offender registration and community notification (SORN) laws and consider the extent to which these laws:

  • Are based on research and scientific knowledge;
  • Reduce the likelihood that others will be victimized in the future by those who are required to register;
  • Prevent offending by those who have not previously been convicted for a sexual crime;
  • Provide actionable information to law enforcement for criminal investigation purposes and enable the public to take preventive action;
  • Meet their intended goals of preventing sexual abuse and increasing community safety; and
  • Support desistance[3] from sexual reoffending through the development of protective factors known to reduce recidivism.

This paper presents conclusions about the effectiveness of registration laws as applied to children and adolescents adjudicated for a sexual crime, and makes recommendations on evidence-based reforms regarding registration and community notification.

[1] Registration: A set of procedures that individuals adjudicated or convicted of sexual crimes must follow to disclose information to law enforcement authorities and to periodically update that information so it remains current. Initially designed as private and for law enforcement only, it has expanded to include dissemination of information to the public.

[2] Community Notification: Systems in which information about individuals required to register is transmitted to the public.

[3] Generally defined as the cessation of offending or other antisocial behavior.

Publication Type:
Policy Papers