Fast facts about laws requiring sex offender registration and residence restrictions

Fact 1: Registries do not lower sexual reoffense rates.

Recidivism rates for individuals who have committed sexual offenses are the lowest of any crime type. On average, just 5% of people who have sexually offended commit another sexual offense (Langan, Schmitt, and Durose, 2003; Sample and Bray, 2003). Reoffense rates already are so low that registries and residence restrictions do not help drive the numbers of reoffenders lower.

Fact 2: Registries do not make society safer.

Most people who sexually offend know their victims. Stranger-on-stranger sexual abuse is extremely rare. Because most registries and residence restrictions are designed to minimize sexual assaults by strangers, such laws do nothing to protect against the more typical situation of sexual assault by someone the victim knows.

Fact 3: Registries do not help individuals become productive members of society.

A key goal of incarceration and treatment is to encourage restitution and reformation. Registries and residence restrictions make it harder for people who have committed sexual offenses to find and keep jobs, live near work, and participate in the community. Registries and residence restrictions typically increase homelessness and dependency on social services, rather than helping individuals become productive,employed, tax-paying citizens who can make restitution to their victims and contribute in positive ways to their communities.

Fact 4: Registries are not cost-effective.

Local law enforcement agencies spend a significant amount of time monitoring people on registries. Because registries and residence restrictions do not in general reduce future sexual crimes, this use of taxpayer resources is not cost-effective. Rather than spending time and money tracking people who are very unlikely to commit another sexual offense (and who make up the majority of people on registries), taxpayer dollars and law enforcement resources could be more effectively used to educate the public about ways to prevent sexual abuse from occurring in the first place.

Fact 5: Registries and residence restrictions are not humane.

While victims and society as a whole have a legitimate interest in sanctioning and reforming those who commit crimes, the registries and residence restrictions in place in many jurisdictions against people who have sexually offended go beyond what is reasonable or humane, and create a lifelong inescapable branding. In addition, recent studies show that adolescents placed on sex offender registries have a higher rate of suicide than teenagers who have committed nonsexual crimes (Letourneau, Harris, Shields, Walfield, Kahn, Ruzicka, and Buckman, 2017). One-size-fits-all lifetime registries and residence restrictions are counterproductive and do not make society safer.

Fact 6: Residence restrictions do harm families.

Individuals convicted of a sexual offense frequently are prohibited from living with their families or in their home neighborhoods because of the proximity of parks, schools, or other locations the individual is required to avoid. Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all approach to residence restrictions unnecessarily splits families and reduces the individual’s access to the kinds of prosocial supports that help promote positive outcomes and build safer communities.