Sex Offenders: What Do We Do with Them?

A few weeks ago, blogger Adoc2be asked what I thought should be done to protect society from felonious sex offenders.

Her question was in response to the sad and disturbing murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King--who was attacked on February 25, 2010 while trail running in San Diego, California.

Ms. King's body was found a week later in a shallow grave near a lake, and registered sex offender John Albert Gardner, III was charged with the heinous offense.

In this post, I'll offer my recommendations for dealing with potentially dangerous sex offenders and in a follow-up post tomorrow, police officer, blogger, and former sex crimes detective MommaFargo will provide her insights.


At First Glance

If I had the "perfect" answer that would solve the complex issue of what to do with sex offenders, I would not be the lowly author of a free blog with a title that insinuates basketball discussions yet offers little to no content about sports (I am not a marketing guru, eh?).

The former police officer in me wants to lock all sex offenders up forever, as that is the only way to assure the public that they will not victimize children and/or adults in our communities again.

But alas, this is not a viable solution--economically or in considering that a good number of those convicted will only be incarcerated for a handful of years and then released back to the streets.

As a beginning, I'll examine what works/doesn't work now.


The Latest But Not the Greatest

A) Housing Restrictions for Sex Offenders

Despite their popularity with the public, prohibiting sex offenders from residing close to parks, schools, and daycares has not shown to be an empirically effective tool in preventing sexual abuse.

One explanation for this is that perpetrators may be more interested in approaching their victims away from their own neighborhoods where they are less likely to be recognized.

Whatever the reason, housing restrictions have resulted in at least two undesirable results that may lead to new crimes--offenders who:

1) are unable to find anywhere to live in a community so they reside beneath overpasses or in makeshift tents --which makes them difficult to track;

2) cannot find housing for their work-release and are forced to serve longer sentences--meaning when they are released, they are subject to very little or no monitoring by the justice system.
B) Requiring Sex Offenders to Notify Authorities of Change of Address

I think the Federal Act that requires, among other things, registered sex offenders to notify authorities of where they reside is a sensible restriction.

It is certainly not a perfect system, as over 100,000 of these perpetrators are missing--in that they have not complied with the law.

C) Monitoring of Sex Offenders

Each state can be different in the type and frequency of monitoring. Parole officer visits can result in technical violations that send an offender back to prison, but wearing a GPS bracelet does not necessarily prevent a perpetrator from committing another violent crime.


So What Do We Do with Sex Offenders?

Strategies in response to the "what do we do with..." should include these:

Better Identify Predators--Become more proficient at identifying sexual predators as opposed to grouping all sexual offenders into a category. Once predators are labeled (as best as possible) then focus justice resources on them.

Improve Monitoring and Offender Databases--Increase the technology and personnel used in monitoring those deemed high risk. Also, authorities need to know where all of these convicted perpetrators reside, so locating more of the missing 100,000 or so is essential.

Better Educate the Judicial Branch--Judges need to understand the value of recommendations provided by medical professionals regarding offenders (as what happened in the King case where John Gardner's psychiatrist considered the offender a high risk and recommended a maximum sentence but the judge for whatever reason did not follow it).

Use a Combination of Rehabilitation and Longer Sentences--In general, sex offenders have low recidivism rates. As a result, rehabilitation opportunities should be pursued where practical, and for those that the approach does apply to or fails, longer sentences should be pursued.

Create Loitering Statutes--Despite no clear link to preventing this type of crime, the public overwhelming supports housing restrictions. To make them more effective, I say replace the overly restrictive housing laws for sex offenders with reasonable ones that include anti-loitering statutes so that police can arrest persons "hanging out" in places that children gather.

Improve Prevention Practices--Sex offenders are more likely to select victims that they know. Society should place an emphasis on education--making adults and children aware of personal safety and providing kids with options for resisting attacks. Prevention should also include identifying and using whatever is effective in preventing young people from becoming sex offenders.


In sum, no perfect solution exists to protect society from dangerous sex offenders. As a society, our actions should be based on practices that have been shown successful so as to reduce the number of sexual offenses and create better awareness among citizens.

The photo was used from here.


The Babaylan said...

i hope these are carried out for real.

Momma Fargo said...

Great post! You are brilliant! I think education is the one thing America needs to act on RIGHT NOW. People really don't know enough sometimes to protect themselves and their children. Plus, we all get complacent now and again.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Good post and defintely food for thought.
PS- you have been bestowed an award on my blog:)

Elena said...

Virginia has a database site where you can plug in your zip code and a list of sex offenders and their addresses come up. I was shocked to see how many there were in what I deemed a "safe" neighborhood. The odd thing was that when I plugged in my old address in New York, nothing came up.

Matthew Rush said...

What an important and heated issue. Wouldn't it be nice if there really was an answer?

All the suggestions you've given make sense and I'm sure they would reduce offenses.

Too bad there it not a way to actually eliminate this behavior from society.

darksculptures said...

First, thanks for visiting my blog. Second, I'm so glad I followed the link back to yours. These issues are important and we need viable solutions.

A Doc 2 Be said...

Great post, as I knew it would be!

Wondering if more plea bargains were offered such as the one in King's and Dubois' case suspending a long, protracted death penalty case and appeals, if that would help curb offenders' appetites. Or at least, keep them locked up forever and save costs?

I do not believe offenders can be rehabbed. At all.

I think something in their wiring makes them prone to offend again and again... as long as there are willing/unknowing victims.

MeganRebekah said...

I think an important thing is to classify sex offenders because the term is too general to be effective.
There are registered sex offenders who had sex with a 15 year old when they were 18. It's technically illegal but not on the same level as the perps who prey on 5 year olds. The former probably doesn't need much monitoring while the latter should be jailed for life.

We should be using our resources to focus on the truly heinous and dangerous sex offenders.

Lori E said...

The double edged sword of the internet is making a bad problem even worse.
The availability of images has created a huge market and a demand for more and more.
I think resources should be increased to track these offenders. but of course the penalties need to be more severe.
Judges need an education. At least you elect yours don't you? Ours in Canada are appointed.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is a huge issue that has no easy answer. Too many kids have been hurt because sex offenders are allowed back on our streets. In our city, we get the warnings on the news that the sex offender is now on the loose (and supposedly monitored), but like I'm going to remember his face if I see it. My kids certainly won't. And no one can monitor them 24/7.

Tara said...

What a terrific post. This is so important.

Your first issue hits home. It's so unfair to brand a 19 year old for life because a pissed off dad caught him with his precious 16 yr old daughter. There has to be a more clear-cut definition.

I have some severe thoughts on punishment that most people probably disagree vehemently with. Namely: chemical castration. Yes, there's a fine line, but if it's a [positively] known repeat offender, why do they deserve the chance to do it again? Of course, the ability to murder wouldn't be taken away, nor would their drive possibly...

Kristen @ Motherese said...

Thank you for this thoughtful, reasoned, and thorough treatment of such a difficult topic.

In my state, we have the same type of registry that Elena mentioned in her comment. When I visited the listings for my town, I noticed that it included individuals who had committed very different types of sexual offenses. Knowing very little about the criminal justice system, I wondered if - and hoped that - those found guilty of the most heinous offenses are monitored more closely post-release.

J. J. in Phila said...

Excellent post.

Luisa Doraz said...

The more we are aware of our surroundings, the better we will be. :) Have a great week.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I agree with everything you have written. I have received those 'notifications of sex offender living nearby' and had no way to judge them for severity, type of crime, or even, get this, no picture to place with the name.
This is just bizarre--a half step.

I like how you've thought it out.

Ann T.

mrs. fuzz said...

This is a great post SD. I agree with everything. My first inclination is that the child predators should all receive the death penalty! But since that will never happen, I agree with your suggestions.

We live in the dodgy part of town which also includes many sex offenders. I have become very paranoid and worried since having children because it always seems like the unimaginable is happening all around us. I check our local registry often and try to familiarize myself with the faces. This is extreme to a lot of people, but it's something I worry about. Just over our fence is another complex, and I recognized someone from the registry list. Even though he had previously lived a block or two from his current residence, he did not update his address with the registry. It got me thinking of the thousands upon thousands of unregistered sex offenders wandering about.

It really comes down to protecting oneself. Our daughter is currently in RAD kids. She loves it and had become more confident and knowledgeable about stranger danger.

As for me, self defense is a good idea, and although it is sad, I try to be weary of adults that come to the playground and strike up conversations with moms even though they don't have any kids at the park, etc. It's sad that we don't live in the kind of world where we can do just that. But we need to be a lot more careful of our surroundings. But I'm also aware that HF's job choice has affected a lot of my action and thinking. . . :)

Clara said...

Brilliant post. Thank you very much for this.

Suzanne said...

great post. I think pedophiles should not be allowed out of jail, but like you said, unfortunately this isn't possible. What I wish we could do is just cut their _____ off. But this would probably only lead them to be abusive in another way. Education does seem like the best way.

RD said...


On the street, when I run sex offenders, frequently, I find their official listed residence as the bridge under the state highway at Smith Creek, or the woods above the freeway in the West Hills. It doesn't seem it should be a legal address, but it is...

Kimi said...

Thanks for this post, Slam Dunks! Very informative. I think though to prevent sex offenders from being sex offenders there is a need for families to be families again. I bet that some of these sex offenders came from broken homes where the father was absent or little to no appreciation was shown to the child. We have enough education as it is and it should be continued but I believe prevention starts in the home.

BobKat said...

Thanks Slam...

I do think you're correct in classifying the type of offender. I'd dare to guess no more than 5% of those registered are dangerous. Can't trust them with children, but as far as dangerous - there's a big difference between a school teacher who had sex with a student, and a predator who stalks kids, and worst, and murders them. I'm thinking of Dru Sjodin, though she wasn't a kid.

Herding Cats said...

I definitely agree that this issue needs to be more recognized. Education is HUGE, and it's so important to teach kids at an early age to speak up!

Slamdunk said...

Thanks all for the kind words and your comments.

@ Creepy Query Girl: Thank you for the recognition.

@ Elena: Yeah, even in a small town, we have lots of persons listed in the database relatively close to us.

@ DarkSculptures: Your welcome.

@ Lori: With judges here in the States, it is a mixed bag. Some are elected and some are appointed--as each process has its negatives.

@ Doc 2Be: Good thoughts and I am not sure on your plea bargain question--my guest blogger tomorrow will echo your feelings on rehab.

@ Tara: I don't know much about the research on that suggestion, but would like to hear what the medical professionals know. Also, I think there are female predators that we know very little about.

@ RD: Thanks for your perspective. I was not sure how often these folks living here and there had those kinds of addresses listed.

@ Kimi & Herding Cats: Good points--preventing the next generation of offenders is critical--we have to educate in the home and elsewhere.

Lipstick said...

This is a great post. I always like how you point out that the simple or "obvious" answer that the general public may be barking about is not necessarily feasible or successful (housing option).

Rowe said...

The judge who ignored the recommendations of John Gardner's psychiatrist should be locked up and held liable for Chelsea's death which most likely would not have happened had Gardner been kept where he belonged, behind bars.