Sunday, August 21, 2011

Times Daily: Professors warn about new sex offenders law

The Times Daily has written a few good articles on the subject of sex offenders, and this article is no exception. The only criticism I have is they did not mention the state felt pressured to pass a quick law due to the threat of losing 10% of Byrne/ JAG funds if they failed to comply with SORNA.

Professors warn about new sex offenders law

By M.J. Ellington  Montgomery Bureau 

Published: Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.

Last Modified: Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 10:38 p.m.

MONTGOMERY - Alabama's new sex offender reporting law is designed to increase oversight of people who commit sex crimes, but two researchers warn if the laws are too restrictive, they may backfire and result in more, not fewer, sex offenses.
J.J. Prescott, University of Michigan Law School professor, and Jonah E. Rockoff, Columbia University Business School professor, tracked sexual offender data after states established sex offender registries. The duo did not study Alabama's new law but analyzed similar laws in other states for their report.
Rockoff said states passed stricter laws hoping to reduce the number of repeat sex offenses and make the public feel safer. But in a study encompassing several years, he and Prescott found that such requirements make “sticking to the straight and narrow much less attractive than just throwing up your hands and returning to crime,” Prescott said.
He considers the finding significant since the purpose of most of laws is to cut down on repeat crimes.
“Put differently, living life as a convicted sex offender can be pretty miserable under these laws,” Prescott said.
The effect is that the threat of going back to prison for committing new offenses may seem less objectionable than living on the outside under very restrictive rules, he said.
“... Some of these requirements, particularly the ones that involve informing the public about the identity and whereabouts of sex offenders, are so costly to offenders that they become more, rather than less, likely to commit more offenses,” Prescott said.
While Prescott's study did not track Alabama sex offenders, he said it will be extremely difficult for some sex offenders to comply with the new law's requirements. He used Alabama's requirements for homeless sex offenders as an example.
Homeless offenders in Alabama with no fixed residence must report where they are living and pay a $10 registry update fee every seven days. If they do not, they will be sent back prison under the new law, he said.
If the $10 fee stops the offender from reporting because he doesn't have the money and can't get a job because he is an offender, the state will ultimately pay more to keep him in prison. Alabama's cost per inmate per year is about $22,000.
Alabama's new law, based on a bill by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, has far-reaching registration and reporting requirements for convicted sex offenders.
“Eighty percent of it was making sure we're in compliance with the” Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, Ward said.
The act, in part, establishes new crimes or expands federal jurisdiction over existing crimes in nine areas, including child abuse, kidnapping, obscenity, child pornography, use of the Internet to distribute obscenity or drugs and record-keeping. It also established new offenses and penalties for failure to register as a sex offender.
The state Department of Public Safety and the Alabama District Attorneys Association asked Ward to sponsor the bill, he said.
Local sheriff's offices and police departments are in training to learn how to enforce the law and many expect to devote at least one person on their staff to keep up with reporting changes. The law does not allocate state funding for enforcement.
Some individuals on the House and Senate committees who took up Ward's bill and a similar House bill by Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, said there was little controversy or discussion about the legislation.
“I was for it. There really wasn't a lot of opposition,” said Rep. Greg Burdine,
Rep Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who is an assistant Tuscaloosa city attorney, raised questions in the House Judiciary Committee about the stringent reporting requirements.
In previous years, sex offender legislation, particularly limitations on where offenders can live, prompted concerns from legislators.
Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, was a House Judiciary Committee member from 2006-10.
She said if the state continues to lengthen the distance between a sex offender's address and community parks, day care facilities or schools, pretty soon there won't be anywhere left for offenders to live.
Jess Brown, political scientist professor at Athens State University, said the thought of sex offenses brings out strong emotions in the public, which often applauds tougher offender restrictions.
Politicians who pass the laws can go home and tell voters they are tough on crime, and few people will voice objections even if they believe the laws may be a mistake, he said.
“There is a belief in America, especially in Alabama, that you can solve a problem with tough-on-crime laws,” Brown said. “But if you continue to have harsh punishment without the likelihood of effective enforcement, then compliance goes down.”
Politics are always a part of the picture with punitive legislation, including three-strikes-and-you're-out laws that also crowd prisons with people who return on technicalities, he said.
“No prosecutor or politician is going to stand up and say we made a mistake with this law,” Brown said. “He doesn't want his opponents to use that against him in the next election.”
M.J. Ellington is the Montgomery Bureau chief for the TimesDaily. She can be reached at


  1. recidivism of sex offenders are not due to re-offense of sexual crimes. They usually are re-arrested due to registration violations. Registry's were created because of recidivism studies. Isn't this an oxymoron to think these new restrictions will create a safer environment for children. If Legislator's were bold enough to replace restrictions with incentives for proper and compliant behavior, this would encourage compliance. Life long registration is one of those incentives, moving it to a 10 year period if no offense occurs. Travel restrictions dealt with in the new law was a positive step in the right direction for compliance exchange. Many fathers under this law need proper avenues to be interactive in the lives of their children and Grandchildren, without fear of arrest. Arresting men for public urination and charging them with a sex crime, PLEASE! Using testimony of children with out researching the child's past for reliability has to stop. When their testimony's change they drop their charges and the state re-charges using their testimony as proof of guilt without facing the accuser. They say we are because the state is the accuser but their case is based on testimony of a child ,protected from testifying in court. This is JUSTICE? No other crime has a life sentence like this and the constant change of laws violates the term of release of the recipient. College campus are places where children gather? Who thought this one up? apparently they haven't been to a college campus, the students are old enough to vote, join the military, drive a car and enter into a credit card agreement. These are not children. Take the time to seed the thoughts of common sense into the Legislature for positive change in our laws.

  2. Actually I feel the registry needs to be scrapped entirely. It has never served a purpose save to further eliminationist thinking. Alabama will almost never release those with "serious" sex crimes. It was not uncommon to see people with life w/o or 99 year sentences. Thus, many of the registrants are relatively minor offenders.

    Not all legislators are malicious, some are just as blind as the rest of us.