Western Australia

Oct 25, 2012

Moral panic: does public registration of sex offenders work?

WA has a new public register of sex offenders. What does the research show on the benefits (or otherwise) of similar schemes in the US and the UK?

There are few measurable benefits in having a public sex offender registry like the one launched in Western Australia last week, according to academic studies of similar instruments already operating in the US and the UK. Several research papers (including a NSW Parliament briefing paper from 2009) have found that instead of raising awareness or preventing crime, criminal tracking and databases tend to heighten community anxiety, leading to vigilantism and stereotyping.

One federally-funded study conducted in the US found in 2009 that: “Despite wide community support for these laws, there is little evidence … to support a claim that Megan’s Law is effective in reducing either new first-time sex offenders or sexual re-offenders.”

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5 thoughts on “Moral panic: does public registration of sex offenders work?

  1. elknwit

    Well of course the criminal welfare industry would trot out the usual..”there’s no evidence that [fil in whatever measure you like] lessens crime…” How would you ever know? Its like asking a man for evidence he has stopped beating his wife – a claim easily made and diffuclt to duspute. In fact any study of any sanctions for crime reveals there is “no evidence” that any measure commonly adopted to impose accountability for criminal activity lessens a specific crime – -particulalry jail. So let’s not have jail? Then what! I actually dont agree with this regiater but there are good reasons to argue its usefulnees and the benefit and right of the public to have it that have and need have nothing to do with “lessining [the] crime”. This is the classic staw man argument always raised by the usual lobby groups – -invent an objective not sought by a measure which you can disprove then advertise some imaginary victory out of artiulating an irrlevancy. At least if the public knows where these individuals are they can act to avoid them if they wish.That is a legitimate public concern. And while we are on the “no evidence” red herring there is no evidence these measures increase the crime or its repetition or result in any measurable increase in vigilantism – -none.

  2. Monash.edu

    Anybody who denies that these measures encourage vigilantism is a complete idiot, though still a little smarter than any politician who would ever institute such a thing.

  3. elknwit

    What an intellegent response Monash.edu. Well, let’s see, I’d say annyone who denies that lesser jail sentences dont encourage more crime is an idiot – with the same rational and evdentiary credibility as your assertion – zero. Evidenceless assertions are just expressions of faith – and you are fully enetiled to your faith like any believer. But that right does not make those who reject those beliefs through lack of evidence any more of an idiot than an atheist who rejects the existence of a god.

  4. Bill Hilliger

    Hmmm some people are saying, public registration of sex offenders, if that’s all well and good; consider this – seeing the RC church is so secretive and protective about their sex offender priests, brothers, moving these people around to distant parishes, etc. Should priests and brothers be listed as maybe/possible/potential offenders (we know from experience the RC church hides them) as well as the churches to make the public aware of the potential of a sex offender being in their church community?

  5. Phen

    Given its a Barnett re-election stunt, it should be christened “Colin’s Law”.

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