XIV. EFFECTIVE SEX OFFENDER MANAGEMENT IN NEW YORK STATE
In March 2010, the Committee conducted two roundtables which included experts in the field of effective sex offender management. Staffs of both parties were present and engaged in a question and answer period. From these meetings the following policy goals were suggested and we now share them with our readers.
1. Convene public hearings on effective sex offender management and public safety to begin to develop comprehensive legislation that will better facilitate the goal of improving public safety and reducing the risk of sexual assault. After fourteen years of sex offender registries and a growing list of restrictions in place in New York, there is little evidence that any of these measures have contributed to a decrease in sexual assault. There is, however, a growing body of research suggesting that some laws relating to registration, notification, and overly harsh laws restricting where sex offenders can be and how they can engage with their communities may exacerbate the risk that they will reoffend. We should engage in a conversation to consider developing a comprehensive sex offender management plan that embraces new research and is aimed at reducing recidivism.
2. Re-examine the method of assessing risk of re-offense among registered sex offenders currently used by the New York State Board of Examiners and appoint a commission to choose among the various assessment tools available today one that would provide the most reliable determination of risk. New York’s Risk Assessment Guidelines were developed more than fifteen years ago, at a time when experts in the state knew far less about how to measure the risk that someone once convicted of a sex crime would reoffend. It is our belief—one shared by many experts—that there are far too many people in New York who are misclassified in the higher levels of risk, and therefore unnecessarily diverting limited resources away from likely re-offenders.
3. Reject additional further residency restriction proposals and instead reinforce the ability of individual probation and parole officers to assess whether there are residences that are inappropriate for certain individuals such that they would pose an unacceptable risk of re-offense. The legislature should also pass affirmative legislation that would require counties to create plans for safe and stable housing for sex offenders. All of the empirical research examining the effectiveness of residency restrictions shows that residency restrictions do not work to reduce the risk of harm to children. They have been shown to discourage offenders from reporting their whereabouts to law enforcement, and they destabilize offenders’ lives, creating roadblocks to successful re-integration into society and increasing the risk of recidivism. Housing stability is a key to reducing recidivism, and a comprehensive sex offender management plan must include provisions to ensure stable housing for offenders.
4. Many states have declined to adopt the federal Adam Walsh Act that would expand community notification via the state’s Internet registry to include registered offenders who pose the lowest risk of re-offense; require that anytime affirmative community notification is undertaken that law enforcement concurrently conduct community education to ensure that risk is communicated in a way that makes sense; monitor acts of vigilantism and take action against anyone found to have abused the use of the Internet registry to harass or harm a registered offender or his family. Community notification has been found to have no demonstrable impact on sexual recidivism. In fact, some studies suggest that community notification may aggravate stressors that lead to increased recidivism32, and requiring broad community notification via the Internet may discourage some victims of sexual abuse from reporting incidents to the authorities. Victims may be reluctant to report offenses out of concern for a perpetrator who is close to them ( a relative, a step-parent), or out of concern for their own privacy.33 The Adam Walsh Act would take New York in a dangerously opposite direction, besides the fact that experts agree that it would cost more to implement than the state would stand to lose in federal grant money.
5. Pass the Healthy Teens Act,34 a bill pending in both the Assembly and the Senate, which would establish an age-appropriate and medically accurate program of comprehensive sex education, including instruction on avoiding unwanted verbal, physical and sexual advances. Each year, New York adds another restriction on those already convicted of sex offenses as a means to prevent sexual violence against children. However, the overwhelming majority (around 95%) of sex offenses, including rape and child molestation, are committed by those who have never before been convicted of an offense. This means that New York concentrates all of its legislative efforts on preventing only 5% of all sex crimes against children, and completely ignores the threat posed by first-time offenders. The Healthy Teens Act would provide young people with age-appropriate comprehensive sex education that would include instruction about how to avoid becoming a victim—perhaps the .most valuable and effective tool way to reduce the incidence of childsexual assault.
32 Naomi J. Freeman, The Public Safety Impact of Community Notification Laws, Crime & Delinquency (2009) (“Empirical research has suggested that sex offenders do not always commit crimes within their areas of residence and, thus, the areas in which notification occurs. Indeed, studies in Colorado and Minnesota found that sex offenders are unlikely to offend close to their homes and within the area that notification occurs; rather, sex offenders may travel, on average, 3 to 5 miles to gain access to victims.”).
33 Jeffrey C. Sandler, Does a Watched Pot Boil? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law, Psychology, Contextualizing Sex Offender Management Legislation and Policy: Evaluating the problem of Latent Consequences in Community Notification Laws, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (2001).
34 Assembly Bill 1806A (Assemblyman Gottfried)/Senate Bill 3836 (Senator Duane).