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Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?

J.J. Prescott and Jonah E. Rockoff

Journal of Law and Economics, 2011, vol. 54, issue 1, 161 - 206

Abstract: Sex offenders have become targets of some of the most far-reaching and novel crime legislation in the United States. Two key innovations have been registration and notification laws, which, respectively, require that offenders provide identifying information to law enforcement and mandate that this information be made fully public. We study how registration and notification affect the frequency and incidence across victims of reported sex offenses. We present evidence that registration reduces the frequency of reported sex offenses against local victims (for example, neighbors) by keeping police informed about local sex offenders. Notification also appears to reduce crime, not by disrupting the criminal conduct of convicted sex offenders, but by deterring nonregistered offenders. We find that notification may actually increase recidivism. This latter finding, consistent with the idea that notification imposes severe costs that offset the benefits to offenders of forgoing criminal activity, is significant, given that notification's purpose is recidivism reduction.

Date: 2011
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