Most perpetrators of sexual violence who are convicted and incarcerated are eventually released. Reincorporating sex offenders into American Indian/Alaska Native communities can be a complicated process, which necessitates several policy considerations. First, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act provides the bare minimum requirements that jurisdictions, including Tribes that opted to implement SORNA on their own, must observe in monitoring and supervising sex offenders. Although jurisdictions must comply with SORNA’s requirements, they are free to build upon SORNA to achieve an optimum sex offender management strategy.
Effective management of sex offenders is necessary for the overall health of American Indian/Alaska Native communities. Statistics suggest that between 12% and 24% of sex offenders perpetrate another crime of sexual violence after release from custody. Even more startling, because many incidents of sexual abuse go unreported, experts believe that these statistics underestimate the likelihood of a sex offender committing another crime of sexual violence. Thus, it is clear, with nearly one in every four sex offenders likely to offend again, effective monitoring and management of these perpetrators are critical.
The first chance that many jurisdictions have at managing sex offenders occurs when they are paroled from prison or released from Tribal or county jails under terms of probation. When released under terms of probation, jurisdictions have more say in the conduct and behavior of the sex offender than they would otherwise. For example, most people on parole or probation must get their housing approved by a supervisory authority. Furthermore, the parole board or probation officer can prohibit a sex offender from living with children, consuming drugs or alcohol, having contact with minors, having contact with his victim, using the Internet, and traveling to another community. Moreover, a parole officer or probation officer can require that the offender participates in sex-offender-specific rehabilitation programs, attend drug rehabilitation programs, attend alcohol rehabilitation programs, or check in with the officer regularly. Any violation of the set terms of the offender’s release can result in his immediate arrest.
A jurisdiction’s ability to keep tabs on sex offenders is not limited to the period when the offender is on parole or probation. One very effective strategy for managing sex offenders is sex offender registration.
Sex offender registration enables the government to track and monitor sex offenders through the registration process. SORNA attempts to create uniform guidelines for which types of sex offenders must maintain their registration and for how long they must remain registered. Under SORNA, sex offenders must register and keep their registration current in each jurisdiction in which they reside, work, or go to school. Sex offenders must also make periodic in-person appearances to verify and update their registration information. All registered sex offenders must renew their registration within three days of moving, attending a new school, or getting a new job. Furthermore, every SORNA-compliant jurisdiction must enact criminal penalties for failing to maintain proper registration in a sex offender database. Thus, if the sex offender fails to register, it is a crime under Tribal, state, and federal law, and they will go to jail.
Community notification laws are another tool used to monitor sex offenders. Community notification laws can vary significantly between jurisdictions. Jurisdictions can choose to provide notification about sex offenders either actively or passively. For example, listing the sex offender’s pertinent information on a website or similar online database is an example of passive community notification. On the other hand, if the jurisdiction requires that law enforcement officers hang posters in the sex offender’s neighborhood or go door to door verbally, notifying neighbors about the presence of the sex offender, this is an example of active notification requirements.
Depending on the jurisdictions that have adopted active notice requirements, law enforcement may only notify specific people. For example, if a low risk the sex offender is likely to commit another crime of sexual violence, the police only need to inform people who are especially vulnerable to being preyed upon by sex offenders (i.e., daycares, schools, playgroups, and children’s clubs). If there is a high risk of the sex offender committing another crime of sexual violence, law enforcement may be required to hold a community meeting or publish notification about the offender’s presence in local media.
Many jurisdictions have adopted residency restrictions for sex offenders. These laws identify areas where children often frequent (i.e., parks, elementary schools, libraries, playgrounds, and daycares) as “child safety areas.” Residency restrictions for sex offenders prohibit them from living within a pre-specified zone, usually between 500 and 2,000 feet, of the “child safety area.” If the sex offender is caught residing within the region surrounding the child safety area, he can be arrested and charged.
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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy (www.swclap.org) This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.