Handling Sex Offenders As Individuals Criminology Essay

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Sex offenders are deeply disturbed individuals, whether they are disabled intellectually or mentally healthy, and there are many ways in which these people are being monitored through a series of probation and parole tactics. The representation of sex offender crimes is documented in many statistics that are found in current research. There are also studies that have been done to illustrate the impact of these sexual assaults against their helpless victims. Certain characteristics, background, and the environment in which the offender was raised all contribute to their eventual sexual offenses. Although many researchers have noted that once a sex offender always a sex offender, there are still treatment programs that are trying to rehabilitate the offender and successfully reintegrate that person back into their former community, even though this process can be complex at times.

History of Sex Offenders

Sex offenders emerged as the ultimate dangerous criminal class in the 1990's. They appeared to be the criminal justice "issue of the year in that decade, and as a category of offenders, they were among the highest priority for the criminal justice system to manage and contain" (Lynch, 2002: 529). Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the so-called "sexual pervert was first identified in medical-professional and legal realms; those who had a proclivity toward sex acts that did not lead to procreation ran the risk of being labeled a pervert: a label that was meant to describe the whole of the person, rather than the specific non-normative behaviors" (Lynch, 2002: 529).

Over the last decade, state legislatures spent an exceptional amount of time and resources in addressing the behavior of sex offenders. Since 1990, sex offenders in at least 21 states have become "eligible for civil commitment in mental health facilities after their release from prison" and in all 50 states, "they have been made to register their addresses with law enforcement agencies, and they have had their residences and behaviors disclosed to the public" (Sample & Bray, 2003: 60). Some states introduced chemical castration and reintroduced execution as possible punishments for sex crimes (Sample & Bray, 2003). In Illinois, convicted sex offenders are now prohibited from public parks and school zones. Furthermore, currently all states mandate the "drawing of DNA samples from convicted sex offenders, so they may be housed in databanks and used by law enforcement agencies to help identify criminal suspects and enact arrests" (Sample & Bray: 2003).

In 1996, California was the first state to enact a non-voluntary chemical castration punishment for child molesters (Lynch, 2002). Those sex offenders in the especially dangerous category usually labeled "sexually violent predators, currently have a set of even more restrictive incapacitative methods aimed at them, most dramatically in the form of post-sentence detention" (Lynch, 2002: 530)

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, three specific incidents of sexual homicides against children were catalysts for much of the sex offender legislation we have today. Specifically the three main cases involved Jacob Weiterung, Polly Klaas, and Megan Kanka (Sample & Bray, 2003). Since these children were abducted the passages of certain laws and acts went into affect. For example, "in 1994, the Jacob Weiterung Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act mandated that 10% of a state's funding under the Edward Bryne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance grant program be used for establishing a state-wide system for registering and tracking convicted sex offenders" (Sample & Bray, 2003: 60). The Weiterung Act was soon "amended by the passage of Megan's Law in 1996, which requires states to make sex offender registry information available to the public" (Sample & Bray, 2003: 60).

Case Studies of Sex Offenders

One study conducted is the treatment service for sex offenders and abusers who have intellectual disabilities (Lindsay et al., 2002). "With the advent of community care policies throughout the Western world, there has been a decrease in the provision of custodial care for people with intellectual disability" who have committed sex crimes (Lindsay et al., 2002: 167). Several researchers have looked at a relatively high incidence of sex offending in populations of offenders who are mentally handicapped. Lund (1990) is a researcher who found a doubling of the incidence of sex offending when comparing sentencing in 1973 with 1983 (Lindsay et al., 2002). Noble and Conley (1992) reported that "studies of offenders with intellectual disability in community programs report a low incidence of serious crimes with offenses typified by misdemeanors, public disturbances, and less serious felonies" (Lindsay et al., 2002: 167). In Walter and Mcabe's (1973) study of patients committed under a hospital order, they found that of 331 men with an intellectual disability 289 had committed a sexual offense (Lindsay et al., 2002). Gross (1985) found that between 21 and 50 percent of offenders with intellectual disabilities had committed a sexual crime (Lindsay et al., 2002).

Characteristics of Sex Offenders and Reoffending Rates

A researcher, Day, notes some characteristics of sex offenders include "sexual naivety, an inability to understand normal sexual relationships, lack of relationship skills, difficulty in mixing with the opposite sex, poor impulse control, and susceptibility to the influence of others" (Lindsay et al., 2002: 167). In addition, "multiple family pathology, gross marital disharmony, parental separation, violence, neglect, and poor control" are characteristics of the home environment (Lindsay et al., 2002: 167).

Many offenders have a history of school adjustment and relationship problems, behavior problems or psychiatric illness, and other delinquent behavior. Scorzelli and Reinke-Scorzelli (1979) reported reoffending rates of 68 percent in a mixed group of offenders with intellectual disabilities (Lindsay, 2002). Murphy et al. (1991), Murphy and Clare (1991), and Clare and Murphy (1998) describe an in-patient treatment unit specifically designed to assess, treat, and manage individuals with mild intellectual disabilities and offending behaviors (Lindsay et al., 2002).

Management of offenders with intellectual disabilities has developed considerably over the last ten years. Case studies indicate broad positive outcomes for all categories of subject, including sexual offenders. Lund (1990) in a study of 93 intellectually disabled patients on statutory care orders reported a reoffending rate of 72 percent over ten years (Lindsay et al., 2002). Gibbens and Robertson (1983) in a study of 250 male patients with intellectual disabilities, all on hospital orders, reported a reconviction rate of 68 percent (Lindsay et al., 2002). Klimecki et al. (1994) found an overall reoffending rate of 41.3 percent in previous inmates with intellectual disability two years after their release (Lindsay et al., 2002).

About 234,000 convicted sex offenders are under the care, custody, or control of correction agencies on an average day ("Sex Offenses," 1997). Nearly 60 percent are under conditional supervision in the community ("Sex Offenses," 1997). Released rapists were found to be "10.5 times as likely as non-rapists to be re-arrested for rape, and those who have served time for sexual assault were 7.5 times as likely as those convicted of other crimes to be rearrested for a new sexual assault" ("Sex Offenses," 1997: 27). Nearly 28 percent of released rapists were rearrested for a new violent crime within three years, and for nearly 8 percent the new arrest for violent crime was another charge for rape ("Sex Offenses," 1997). Overall an estimated "61 percent of violent sex offenders and state offenders in state prisons have a prior conviction history that resulted in a sentence to probation or incarceration" ("Sex Offenses," 1997: 22).

Treatment of Sex Offenders: Serving Sentences and Probation

While the average sentence of convicted rapists discharged from state prisons "has remained stable at about ten years, the average time served has increased from about 3.5 years to 5 years raising the sentenced served from 38 percent to 50 percent" ("Sex Offenses," 1997: 20). For those convicted of rape or sexual assault, the ratio of those on conditional release to those incarcerated is 1.4 to 1 ("Sex Offenses," 1997). For each convicted offender in a prison or jail there are nearly three offenders under probation or parole supervision in the community ("Sex Offenses," 1997).

Sentences of convicted rape defendants also carried additional penalties, which included "a fine (13% of convicted defendants), victim restitution (12%), required treatment (10%), community service (2%), and other penalties (10%)" ("Sex Offenses," 1997: 15). Overall, just two-thirds of convicted rape defendants received a prison sentence. An additional 19 percent of convicted rape defendants were sentenced to a term in a local jail, and 13 percent received a sentence to probation supervision ("Sex Offenses," 1997). Arrestees for rape concentrated in younger age groups while arrestees for other sex offenses were more prevalent among older arrestees ("Sex Offenses," 1997).

The overriding goals of all the measures addressed in many debates "do indeed fit with the kind of actuarial justice that is said to predominate today" (Lynch, 2003: 543). First, the measures in no way aim "to rehabilitate or transform the criminal subject of interest--the sex offender, and second, the lawmakers are explicit about their desire to confine, manage, and monitor the risk posed by this dangerous population through the enactment of the various proposed laws" (Lynch, 2003: 543).

The UCR and NCVS

The department of justice obtains data on selected crimes reported to law enforcement authorities under the Uniform Crime Reports Program of the FBI. Beginning in 1929, this program "had obtained annual counts of crime for more than 16,000 local county and state law enforcement agencies" ("Sex Offenses," 1997: 6). Forcible rape in the UCR Program is limited to the incidence involving female victims. The UCR also obtains information from participating agencies on arrests for 21 additional categories of crime. The arrest tallies count arrests for sex offenses including statutory rape, offenses against chastity, common decency, and morals ("Sex Offenses," 1997).

The National Crime Victimization Survey is one statistical series maintained by the department of justice to learn about the incidence and prevalence of crime ("Sex Offenses," 1997). The NCVS gathers information about crime and its consequences "from a nationally representative sample of United States residents age 12 or older about any crimes they may have experienced whether or not the crime was reported to a law enforcement agency" ("Sex Offenses," 1997: 1).

Notification Laws in Dealing with Sex Offenders

There are three types of notification laws: "those by which law enforcement agencies alert residents of sexual offenders moving into their neighborhood, those by which relevant data are made available to residents who seek it, and those by which convicted child molesters are required to identify themselves as sexual offenders" ("Sex Offender Community," 2000: 1). The effects of the Wisconsin community "not-statute authorizes officials to alert residents about the release and reintegration of sex offenders in their community as perceived by residents, law enforcement, probation/parole agents, and sex offenders" ("Sex Offender Community," 2000: 2).

To prevent sexual victimization, states have enacted community notification laws to inform residents when convicted sex offenders are relocated to their neighborhoods ("Sex Offender Community," 2000). To effectively ensure that sex offenders are able to move back into society, there has to be "adequate community support, participation in the areas of housing, available employment and treatment" ("Sex Offender Community," 2000: 10). The dilemma associated with community notification is "balancing the public's right to know with the need to successfully reintegrate offenders within the community" ("Sex Offender Community," 2000: 6).

Most released offenders say that they "have to deal with no employment, exclusion from residence, and threats from strangers and neighbors on a daily basis" ("Sex Offender Community," 2000: 10). Most offenders characterized relationships with parole officers as a positive occurrence, but some described their relationship as less favorable ("Sex Offender Community," 2000). Findings indicated that although the law's primary goal of community protection is being served, law enforcement and community corrections agencies bear a high cost in terms of personnel, time, and budgetary resources ("Sex Offender Community," 2000). The pressures that seem to be upon many of these individuals by community notification needs to be further examined as a factor under community supervision ("Sex Offender community," 2000).

Sex offender laws require law enforcement agencies to register sex offenders, track their residences, notify the public of their whereabouts, and apprehend registration violators in addition to the traditional crime-fighting and community service functions they are already expected to perform (Sample & Bray, 2003). Notification laws have forced parole and probation officers to go to extra lengths to find sex offenders housing and employment in a community that is against their residing there (Sample & Bray, 2003). This could sometimes be a difficult task and frustrating when unsuccessful, possibly only resulting in the officers' lack of duty for their other responsibilities as policemen.

Overall, there are several ways that sex offenders are being handled. Whether the sex offense was serious or not, the rate of reoffending is still greater for these crimes than any other offense. The main priority is to protect a community through the use of parole and probation officers helping the sex offender back into the community. The many studies show that sex offenders are prone to repeat crimes once released from incarceration, creating a revolving door effect. Although there are many policies that encompass a range of solutions from institutionalization to community-based alternatives, a common ideology includes much of this legislation, which is a belief that without intervention or some sort of surveillance, sex offenders will never stop committing sex crimes.