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Program Profile: Implementation of Federal Sex-Offender Registry Requirements in 14 States

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on September 05, 2017

Program Summary

This was a registration requirement targeting individuals convicted of sex offenses and other crimes against children. The federal legislation required the registration of released sex offenders, including name, address, sex crime committed, and a photograph. The program is rated No Effects. The program did not significantly reduce sex-crime rates.

Program Description

Note: For the purposes of the CrimeSolutions.gov review, the specific focus was on the implementation of federal sex-offender registry requirements in 14 states: California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. All 14 states established a sex-offender registry within the 3 years of the passage of the law.
 
Program Goals/Components
The sex-offender registry requirement, known as the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 (U.S. Congress 1993) was a federal law requiring states to enact sex-offender registries for use by law enforcement. The passage of the legislation marked the first time a federal requirement was placed on states concerning the monitoring and tracking of convicted sex offenders through the use of registries. Prior to its passage, there was no uniform system in place.
 
Registries under the Jacob Wetterling Act were databases containing information on individuals convicted of a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor.  The information included a photograph, name, address, and the crime committed. The objective of the registration requirement was to help law enforcement investigations by providing access to information on known sex offenders in the community. The registries also allowed for background checks on potential employees and volunteers at child care centers. The goal was to prevent crimes against children.
 
In addition to establishing a sex-offender registry, the minimal requirements outlined for law enforcement included: 1) registering offenders convicted of a criminal offense against a minor for at least 10 years, 2) informing offenders of registration obligations upon release, 3) requiring registrants to update address information when necessary, 4) verifying the registrant's address periodically, and 5) releasing registration information on a discretionary basis, as necessary, to the public.  Federal funding was withheld from states who did not enact the law within 3 years of its passage.
 
Target Population
The requirement applied to individuals convicted of a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor, including sex offenders. While the definition of a sex crime varies by state, generally these acts include rape (forced or statutory), sexual assault or battery, child molestation or any sexual conduct with a minor, production or possession of child pornography, or any attempt to commit a sex crime.
 
Additional Information
Since the legislation first passed in 1994, a number of other federal requirements have been put into place to enhance and expand the goals and intent of the original legislation. These include Megan's Law (passed in 1996), which amended the Jacob Wetterling Act to include community notification, and the Pam Lychner Act (passed in 1996), which established a national sex-offender database. In 2006, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) replaced the Wetterling Act and its amendments, to close potential gaps and loopholes that existed under the prior law and strengthen the nationwide network of sex-offender registration and notification programs.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Agan (2011) found that in the 14 states examined in the study, implementing the sex-offender registries as required by the federal legislation (i.e. the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994) did not have a statistically significant effect on rates of sex crimes, rates of sex-crime recidivism, and location of sex crimes.
 
Convicted of Sex Offense
The conviction rate of registered sex offenders was not statistically significantly different from non-registered sex offenders.
 
Arrested for Sex Offense
The arrest rate of registered sex offenders for a sex offense was not statistically significantly different from non-registered sex offenders. 
 
Arrested for Rape
The arrest rate of registered sex offenders for rape was not statistically significantly different from non-registered sex offenders. 
 
Arrested for Other Offense
The arrest rate of registered sex offenders for other offenses was not statistically significantly different from non-registered sex offenders.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Agan (2011) used a retrospective, quasi-experimental design to determine the impact of sex-offender registration on the rate of sex crimes, rate of sex-offender recidivism, and on the location of sex crimes. Three separate data sets and study designs were used; however, for this review, the focus was only on one data set, which included a comparison of registered and non-registered sex offenders.
  
Using data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on a cohort of prisoners from 15 states (Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia) released in 1994, Agan investigated the impact of sex-offender registries on recidivism. This cohort included 10,510 individuals convicted of a sex offense. After juvenile offenders, those arrested in other states, and those returning to Arizona (where conflicting reports made it impossible to determine the date that the registry went into effect) were removed from this cohort, a final group of 9,623 sex offenders from 14 states was included in the analysis. The final treatment group consisted of sex offenders who (as determined by the study author) would have been required to register (N = 5,195), depending on the crimes that the offenders committed, the states in which they were released, and the dates that sex-offender registries went into effect in those states. The comparison group consisted of released sex offenders who would not have been subject to this requirement (N = 4,428). Because no individual-level data on registration was available for the offenders, the study author had no way of knowing whether offenders who were required to register had actually done so.

The treatment group was 25.7 percent African American, 23.3 percent Hispanic, and 51 percent other racial/ethnic groups. The majority (99.2 percent) were male, and the average age at release was 37.1 years with an average sentence length of 5.6 years. The comparison group was 37.4 percent African American, 6.7 percent Hispanic, and 55.9 percent other. The majority (98.6 percent) of the comparison group were male. The average age at release was 36.9 years with an average sentence length of 8 years. To account for the differences across the treatment and comparison groups, the study author used a Cox proportional hazard mode.  
 

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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Study 1 Reference: Agan, Amanda Y. 2011. “Sex Offender Registries: Fear without Function?” Journal of Law and Economics 54(1):207-39.

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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Agan, Amanda Y. 2008. “Sex Offender Registries: Fear without Function?” Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Department of Economics.


Logan, Wayne A. 2003. "Jacob's Legacy: Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Laws, Practice, and Procedure in Minnesota. Florida State University College of Law Scholarship Repository 29(4): 1287-1342.


Prescott, J.J., and Jonah. E. Rockoff. 2011. “Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?” Journal of Law and Economics 54:161-206.


SMART Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. "Legislative History." https://www.smart.gov/legislation.htm (accessed June 14, 2017).


U.S. Congress. Jacob Wetterling Crime Against Children Registration Act of 1993, HR 324, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record (November 20, 1993): H10319.

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Program Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Aftercare/Reentry, Community Awareness/Mobilization, Probation/Parole Services, Violence Prevention, Reminders/Notifications, General deterrence

Targeted Population: Sex Offenders, High Risk Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: National Reentry Resource Center