Noting the significant costs (and unclear benefits) of tracking lots of sex offenders


The economic costs and uncertain benefits of tracking lots of sex offenders is spotlighted by this lengthy local piece out of Ohio, which is headlined “Keeping track of sex offenders costly: Sheriff puts the low end of costs at about $179,000 annually.”  Here are excerpts:

Change in laws in the past five years have forced counties to spend thousands of dollars on registering and tracking sex offenders and the way cases are handled in court.   The Butler County sheriff predicts the number of sexual offenders his office must monitor will double in five years, but despite budget woes, he believes keeping vigilant is a high priority.

On average, Sheriff Richard Jones’ office monitors 460 sex offenders. That number jumps to around 700 if juveniles and offenders who only work in the county are included.   The increase in the number of sex offenders will raise the cost of monitoring sex offenders for counties, and some law experts said it will continue to clog the court system….

A low estimate of the cost of dealing with sex offenders is $179,000 annually, Jones said. That number includes salaries for the assistant prosecutor, who handles all cases involving children, the sheriff’s deputies who monitor offenders once they leave prison, mailing costs for notifications that go out to neighbors when a sex offender moves into town and costs to hunt down offenders who have skipped the state and violated reporting requirements….

The across the board changes, with reporting requirements for even the least severe of sex crimes, have also permeated the court system.  Chris Pagan, a defense attorney who has represented people accused of sex crimes, says the law is clogging the docket.  “It is certainly a lot more difficult to settle sex cases now than it was before,” he said.  “People who are truly innocent, the fact that there would be a registration requirement is a deal stopper most of the time.”

Some question why sex offenders are required to register and submit to monitoring, but murderers, robbers, burglars and other criminals remain virtually invisible once they are released from prison.   Matt Kanai, general counsel for law enforcement for the state attorney general’s office, said registration isn’t meant to punish the offenders; it is a tool for the public.  Sex offenders, he said, are viewed as people who will likely attack again, so keeping tabs on them and providing their locations to the public is a service.

“Sex offenders do tend to operate in their neighborhood. Crimes like murder aren’t neighborhood specific.  They are not necessarily looking at everyone that’s mowing their yard or walking down the sidewalk as their next potential victim,” Kanai said.  “Murders happen in the heat of the moment or in a bar or liquor store.  Those people aren’t thinking when I see people walking down the street I want to go murder that person, but sex offenders we do have that concern, that every person is a potential victim.”

However, a study by J.J. Prescott of the University of Michigan and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University in 2010 found while registering sex offenders appears to be a good, notifying the public is not always a good thing. Public notification may scare away those inclined to be future offenders.  But it appears to actually increase the likelihood that convicted sex offenders will offend again, the study shows analyzing national crime data.

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