From the Boston Bar Journal - Risky Policies: How Effective Are Restrictions on Sex Offenders in Reducing Reoffending?

By Eric Tennen

Legal Analysis

Sex offenders are one of the most reviled groups of felons.  In the past few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in laws and regulations governing virtually every facet of their lives.  The policy decisions about how to deal with sex offenders flow largely in one direction: restrict them as much as possible.  This one-sided approach has created a complex web of restrictions that ultimately causes more harm than good.

Differentiating sex offenses from other types of offenses is perfectly rational.  Further, government should try to address those harms by creating policies that will reduce offenses.  In light of what we know today about sex offenses and sex offenders, it is possible to reduce the rate of recidivism, but the policies currently in place are not the answer.  They are reactive, based often on outdated misconceptions, and far too broad.

Evidence-based practices have become common in almost all areas of public policy, because it is now well established that conventional wisdom is often inaccurate. But though there is an abundance of empirical data about sex offenders and reoffending, our policies are created without reference to the data.  Rather, our policies are based on anecdotal information and inaccurate beliefs about sex offenders and reoffending.  As a result, current policies do not address the problems they are seeking to correct.  In most instances, the policies are ineffective; in many instances, they also create conditions that may increase the risk of reoffense.

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