Legislating Sex Offender Management: Trends in State Legislation 2007-2008

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Introduction:

In the 2007–2008 legislative biennium, state legislatures considered at least 1,500 bills related to sex offenders; at least 275 of those bills became law. Six states—Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada and Texas—did not hold a regular legislative session in 2008.

The passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act heavily influenced sex offender legislation considered during this time period. More than 450 bills were directly influenced by its requirements and July 2009 deadline for compliance. This deadline has since been extended by one year.

Constituents have been calling for more severe sentences for sex offenders even before the Adam Walsh Act was enacted, and this trend continued in 2007 and 2008. There was a clear trend toward lifetime requirements for sex offenders, either in terms of registration requirements or sex offender monitoring, whether by the use of electronic technology or by lifetime probation for certain offenders.

The popularity of residency restrictions or anti-loitering laws for sex offenders appeared to peak in 2007. By the end of the year, scrutiny of these laws intensified as their unintended consequences became clearer. Research shows that restricting where an offender lives does not prevent him or her from reoffending and does not make the community safer. Instead, these laws destabilize sex offenders, often pushing them out of communities and away from their support systems, jobs and access to treatment. Advocates argue this destabilization actually increases the risk of recidivism.

New legislation has been enacted to respond to changing technology. The growth in the use of the Internet and related technology has forced states to continuously update their laws and their own technology to keep up. One such trend over the last several years has been the need to establish new criminal penalties related to electronic or computer-based luring or solicitation of a minor. Chat rooms, social networking sites, instant messengers and even Internet-based games have created new opportunities for potential predators. According to the Office for Victims of Crime, predators are using e-mail, instant messages, bulletin boards and chat areas to contact children, gain childrens’ confidence and lure them into face-to-face meetings.

In addition, some states enacted legislation to keep certain sex offenders from accessing the Internet, specifically social networking sites, chat rooms or sites frequented by children. 

According to CSG research and analysis, the sex offender legislation considered in 2007–2008 can be divided into several main categories, although legislation can and often does fit into more than one category. Policymakers have addressed several major categories, introducing bills and enacting laws. Those include: