Sex Offender Management Policy in the States: Strengthening Practice and Policy: A Final Report

Sex offenders pose an exceptional challenge for policymakers. The crimes they commit evoke fear among constituents and are devastating to victims and the victim’s family and friends. Victims of child sex offenders such as Megan Kanka, Dylan Groene and Jessica Lunsford become household names. And for policymakers, these children have become the inspiration for dozens of bills in statehouses nationwide, including efforts to mandate longer sentences for sex offenders, to prohibit sex offenders from living near schools and child care centers and to increase penalties against convicted offenders for failing to register with authorities.

Despite numerous efforts at all levels of government, policymakers continue to struggle to identify and implement effective policies and programs that address the myriad issues related to sexual offenders and their crimes. Complex issues around sentencing, community supervision and re-entry of sexual offenders into the community remain critical challenges for state lawmakers. Recent public opinion polls indicate sex offender management should be a high priority for lawmakers, with constituents calling for longer sentences and tighter controls for sex  offenders in order to increase safety in their communities.

Complicating matters is the fact that lawmakers must act at a time when high-profile cases  involving sex offenders continue to dominate the news. The extensive media coverage of these events understandably shapes the public’s perception of sex offenders, which further affects the policies legislators introduce. The miraculous recoveries of Shawn Hornbeck, kidnapped at age 11 and held for more than four years, and Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped at age 11 and held for 18 years, both sexually molested, as well as the shocking rape and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu by a female Sunday school teacher, further inflamed the public. Questions of “How could this happen?” quickly lead to “How could this have been prevented?”

Answering that question is not easy and state strategies to deal with sex offenders vary greatly. While few would argue against legislative and programmatic efforts to ensure the safety of the public—especially children—from violent sexual crimes, some state leaders have expressed concern that the urgency of efforts to strengthen sex offender management policy is prohibiting lawmakers from fully considering the range of longterm impacts such policies will have.

In addition, common myths about sex offenders continue to influence the laws policymakers create. For example, many recently enacted state policies presume sex offenders reoffend at a rate much higher than the average criminal offender, that they cannot be rehabilitated
and that they generally perpetrate their crimes against strangers. None of these assumptions is grounded in research. It is in this environment that lawmakers must consider and enact legislation related to sex offenders.

This final report details the findings of the project:

  Download the PDF Version of this Report

   Download the Excel Version of the Table: "Sex Offender State Laws"