Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Failure of Sex Offender Policy, By Paul Heroux, State Representative, Massachusetts

The Failure of Sex Offender Policy, June 3, 2015
By Paul Heroux, State Representative, Massachusetts

The public expects and deserves evidence-based practices when it comes to public safety. This is true for any aspect of public policy but perhaps none so much as sex offender policy. With sex offenders, there is a sense of moral outrage at the depravity of their crimes, and rightly so. Virtually any sex crime makes the news headlines because the public has a very high interest in this crime. Too often politicians not only capitalize on the fear that is caused by sex offenders, but they inadvertently create more of it. 

The manner in which this happens can be seen in sex offender registries and residence restrictions. Using the law to require that someone has to register to be on a registery, politicians are effectively saying that the person who previously offended is someone you need to be afraid of for future re-offending, even though the research says the likelihood is the lowest of the crime categories. Or by requiring through law that sex offenders cannot live in certain places, politicians are saying that if the converse were true, children would not be safe, even though place of residence has virtually nothing to do with who will be victimized.  

Why Do Politicians Use Fear?  

Sometimes they may do it on purpose to boost their popularity in being proactive on important issues. But I think the main reason is that politicians are regular people who got elected but who are not experts in this field and they just don't know what they don't know. Crime policy and the science of correcting criminal behavior is very complicated. We tend to think that what would deter us (the non-criminal population) from committing a crime is the same thing that would deter them (the criminal population) from committing a crime. This is incorrect thinking.