In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sex Offender Policies and Legislation

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Data Sources

Criminology Sex Offender Policies and Legislation
Kelly M. Socia, Rimonda R. Maroun
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0169


Various policies and legislation have been implemented that apply to individuals convicted of sexual offenses. While on probation or parole supervision, sex offenders can be subject to many of the same restrictions that non-sex offenders are. However, there are other requirements that can apply specifically to sex offenders, either while under post-release supervision or afterward. These requirements can take a variety of forms, including formally registering as a sex offender with local law enforcement and periodically updating registration data, residence restrictions on where they can (and cannot) live, and being subject to electronic monitoring. Further, some sex offenders may be civilly committed in secure mental health facilities after their criminal sentence ends. While most offenses involving criminal sexual conduct fall under the jurisdiction of state law, certain sexual offenses are found in Title 18 of the US Code and may involve federal punishment and supervision.

General Overview

Sex offender policies and legislation are multifaceted; they encompass registration, community notification, residence restrictions, electronic monitoring, and civil commitment. There are various resources, such as the Center for Sex Offender Management 2008, that provide a general overview of sex offender policies and legislation. Levenson and D’Amora 2007 provides a thorough discussion of sex offender policies, such as registration, community notification, and residence restrictions, while identifying popular myths. Neito and Jung 2006 is a particularly useful resource for a quick but thorough review of sex offender policies. Socia and Stamatel 2010 examines the assumptions on which mandatory registration laws, community notification laws, and residence restriction laws are based. Wakefield 2006 reviews and assesses sex offender legislation that has been enacted to promote public safety and highlights the excessive resources used on policies that are not successful as well as the lack of resources for necessary programs. Welchans 2005 reviews twelve different assessments of Megan’s Law, a fundamental basis of much sex offender policy. The website of the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) is a valuable resource, as it administers grants for programs relating to sex offender policies such as registration and notification. Zgoba, et al. 2018 examines and reviews the impact of Megan’s Law and its related policies, noting the ineffectiveness of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) laws on reducing recidivism of offenders.

  • Center for Sex Offender Management. 2008. Legislative trends in sex offender management. Center for Sex Offender Management.

    Provides a general overview of legislative trends in sex offender policy as of 2008. Summarizes various policy issues in sex offender management and discusses laws concerning sex offender registration and federal sentencing statutes.

  • Levenson, Jill S., and David A. D’Amora. 2007. Social policies designed to prevent sexual violence: The emperor’s new clothes. Criminal Justice Policy Review 13.8: 168–199.

    DOI: 10.1177/0887403406295309

    Discusses various sex offender policies and their history, development, and implementation. Notes these policies are mainly grounded in myths, and limited empirical research provides little evidence that these policies are successful. Suggestions provided for evidence-based social policies, including media involvement and reshaping public opinion.

  • Neito, Marcus, and David Jung. 2006. The impact of residence restrictions on sex offenders and correctional management practices: A literature review. California Research Bureau.

    In-depth literature review focused on sex offender policies. This is an excellent source for a quick introduction to the topic.

  • Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. Office of Justice Programs.

    A valuable resource for legislative and legal developments related to sex offenders, and potential grant opportunities. The Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative section provides webinars and in-depth reports on the state of research and practice in sex offender management.

  • Sample, Lisa L. 2009. Sexual violence. In The Oxford handbook of crime and public policy. Edited by Michael Tonry, 51–70. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Comprehensive source that provides a thorough review of sexual offending, sex offender legislation, and motives for their passage, particularly the flawed assumptions on which they are based. Sample also discusses related international crime rates, which stand out from most other sources.

  • Socia, Kelly M., and Janet P. Stamatel. 2010. Assumptions and evidence behind sex offender laws: Registration, community notification, and residency restrictions. Sociology Compass 4.1: 1–20.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00251.x

    Reviews the social context within which laws regulating convicted sex offenders were implemented. Finds little efficacy in current sex offender management policies but notes the research is limited in scope and cannot yet be generalized. Suggests an evidence-based approach to policymaking. An easy-to-understand introduction for non-subject matter experts.

  • Wakefield, Hollida. 2006. The vilification of sex offenders: Do laws targeting sex offenders increase recidivism and sexual violence? Journal of Sexual Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law 1:141–149.

    Notes that hatred and vilification of sex offenders prompted policymakers to enact laws to promote public safety and prevent sex offenses. Reviews such laws and indicates their lack of efficacy in fulfilling those goals and that they may increase recidivism by increasing difficulties related to sex offender reintegration.

  • Welchans, Sarah. 2005. Megan’s Law: Evaluations of sexual offender registries. Criminal Justice Policy Review 16.2: 123–140.

    DOI: 10.1177/0887403404265630

    This is a literature review of twelve empirical evaluations of Megan’s Law. It indicates a need for goal-oriented evaluations and stakeholder evaluations, incorporation of other models of evaluations, and research on the impact on adult sexual assaults.

  • Wright, Richard G., ed. 2015. Sex offender laws: Failed policies, new directions. 2d ed. New York: Springer.

    Second edition of an edited volume with chapters on a variety of issues related to sex offender policies and legislation, including those covered in this bibliography entry. As the book title implies, most of the content covers the problems and failures with existing policies/legislation, and recommendations for future changes.

  • Zgoba, Kristen M., Wesley G. Jennings, and Laura M. Salerno. 2018. Megan’s Law 20 years later: An empirical analysis and policy review. Criminal Justice and Behavior 45.7: 1028–1046.

    This is an analysis and policy review of Megan’s Law twenty years post-implementation. While there have been various policy reviews of Megan’s Law, this study includes analyses with a lengthy follow-up period, following the 547 participants for approximately fifteen years post-release. Overall, results indicated little to no impact of SORN laws on recidivism rates. It is notable, however, that results indicated a demonstrable impact on the time period in which offenders reengage in criminal activity post-release.

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