Before 2005, the toughest sex offender laws in America were comparatively moderate compared to the offender laws of today. Then the tragic abduction, rape and live burial of nine-year-old Jessica Lundsford occurred.
As versions of "Jessica's Law" were passed in more than 40 states, those convicted of sexual offenses faced potential lifelong electronic monitoring and potential lifelong imprisonment.
When Jessica Lundsford's story was broadcast over the airwaves, pundits, parents and legislators responded in a panicked fashion. The resulting harsh sentencing and monitoring requirements imposed by versions of Jessica's Law tend to treat all persons convicted of a sexual offense the same and breed public hysteria as a result.
What the public is not widely aware of, however, is that individuals convicted of sexual offenses include those who have committed lower-level offenses, as well as those who have been wrongfully convicted. Even offenders who have intentionally committed illegal sexual acts are, statistically speaking, far less likely to reoffend than one might think.
Two separate recent studies indicate that the recidivism rate among offenders is less than five percent during the first three years that an offender is released from imprisonment. Additional studies indicate that these kinds of single-digit percentage rates of reoffending occur indefinitely.
An author of one of these studies correctly points out that these numbers support the idea that, "The real challenge for public agencies is to determine the level of risk which specific offenders pose (to) the public."
Rather than paint all offenders with the same brush by penalizing and demonizing them all to the same degree, it will be more effective and more just to reform sex offender laws to reflect the differences in each offender's type of case.
Source: Corrections.com, "Sex Offender Laws Are Based On Rage and Fear," Chris Dornin, Mar. 12, 2012