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Legislative Memo: Regarding legislative proposals related to sex offenses (2005)

Both the Senate and Assembly have recently introduced a raft of legislative proposals that would further sanction or regulate persons who have served sentences for sex offenses. Unfortunately, many of the public comments regarding this issue have been characterized by gross distortions of fact and by apparent ignorance of behavioral science and law enforcement practices. In advance of the recently introduced legislation, there has been no searching inquiry as to the nature of the risk to public safety posed by sex offenders. Nor has there been serious deliberation regarding the most effective measures the government can take to protect our children and our communities from those risks.

In this regard, the recent Senate hearings have been a missed opportunity. Not a single expert was invited to testify regarding the treatment and monitoring of sex offenders. Absent such expertise it is simply not possible for legislators to craft legislation that reflects sound public policy.

The Assembly has recently announced that it will also conduct hearings on the post-incarceration management of sex offenders. We commend this initiative. And we urge that the Assembly take this opportunity to solicit testimony from mental-health and law-enforcement professionals who have expertise in this area – including those who treat sex offenders and those who monitor them in our communities – and from civil rights and criminal law experts.

The NYCLU recommends that no legislation should be advanced until legislators have conducted a searching inquiry that produces authoritative answers to the following questions:

  1. What are the true risks posed by convicted sex offenders? How often do they re-offend and what affects those rates?
  2. Does New York’s current method of assessing sex offender’s risk of re-offense accurately measure that risk? (Recent research findings indicate the risk of re-offense is significantly overestimated.)
  3. What information, if any, has been shown to be helpful in protecting communities and families against sexual assault? How should this information be disseminated?
  4. What strategies are most effective in monitoring sex offenders on probation or parole, and do adequate funds exist to carry out those strategies?
  5. Which treatment alternatives are most effective in reducing the rate of recidivism of sex offenders and is such treatment being provided?
  6. Do proposals to impose post-incarceration sanctions or monitoring provide for individualized assessment consistent with basic due-process principles?
  7. Are we adequately educating children so that they are prepared to protect themselves against all forms of sexual violence?

Without reliable answers to these questions legislators cannot assess the effectiveness of various proposals. What’s more, without such information legislators create a real risk of replacing sound strategies with a regulatory scheme that may make for compelling headlines, but ineffective and unworkable policy.

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