Registries Don’t Keep Sex Offenders from Restricted Areas

A surprising percent of offenders move to restricted areas

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Laws requiring sex offenders to register with local authorities are meant to discourage them from moving into the neighborhoods, but the latest study shows they may not be having the desired deterrent effect.

The research provides new information on the contentious question of whether public sex offender registries and housing restrictions actually improve public safety.  Housing restrictions typically bar offenders from living near schools, daycare centers or other sites likely to have a high concentration of children who may become victims.  As of 2011,  nearly 750,000 registered sex offenders were listed in the U.S., whose names can be searched in state and federal registries. But the latest analysis shows that offenders change residences frequently and that over the course of a 30 month period, a third will move into areas where they are not legally allowed to live.

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Researchers led by Alan Murray of Arizona State University studied over 1,000 registered offenders in Hamilton County, Ohio, in the Cincinnati region, at four time periods between 2005 through 2007. They found that in 2005, 41% of sex offenders in the registry lived in a restricted zone, but after December of 2006, only 30% did.

The authors suggest that this 11% reduction resulted from “more stringent enforcement of registry restrictions,” which involved actual evictions carried out under an initiative of the local sheriff and prosecutor.  Another factor that might account for some of the decrease included the passage in 2006 of the Adam Walsh Act, which received wide publicity and created a national registry that requires the most risky offenders to sign in and update their information every three months.

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But enforcement isn’t always possible, and other findings in their data make the research far more equivocal.  The first was that 65% of offenders moved at least once during the 2.5 year study period, and prior research suggests that not having stable housing increases the risk of offending or failing to register.

Second, many of these offenders resided in marginal and chaotic neighborhoods— which are often the cheapest and least restricted to offenders— and can increase recidivism in several ways. Parents are often unable to supervise children adequately due to long work hours and lack of affordable daycare, making the children more vulnerable. These areas  also tend to have more crime and less economic opportunity overall, both of which can affect recidivism.

But perhaps even more concerning was that a third of offenders moved into restricted zones during the study period.  It’s possible the trend isn’t significant; many rehabilitation and support services that offenders are mandated to use are located in restricted zones, and the offenders may simply move to these neighborhoods for convenience.

Looking more closely at the offenders who move to restricted areas, however, 51% of those who registered only once and then failed to comply again lived in these regions, compared to 30% of those who registered faithfully.  That could suggest that those who are seeking to hide their activities, presumably in plain sight, are moving to these areas, possibly to find new victims.

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So do sex offender registries work to protect public safety? The authors conclude “The present study highlights… that despite these increasingly stringent laws, sex offenders move freely about communities and continue to reside in restricted areas.  This mobility suggests that current policies may require modification in their design and implementation to achieve their intended goals.”

Overall, data on the effectiveness of sex offender registries hasn’t been conclusive; while a 2009 review conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that registries had no effect on recidivism, for example, that data was not strong enough to be definitive.  A 2008 analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that registration deters first time offenders but increases recidivism in those who have already been registered, by limiting their ability to get jobs and rehabilitate themselves.

Based on the findings, it’s likely that registries and residence restrictions alone cannot stop the sexual abuse of children.  To do that, researchers need far more  understanding about what drives this criminal behavior and what type of rehabilitation actually works.

MORE: How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness


The registry must re consider that not all sex offender really commit the crime.And it is unjust to those innocent having accused and charge for the crime which they did not commit anyways. 

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I can tell you why it won't work.

1. To many people are on the list for sex crime that are not at risk for recidivism. Statutory rape is one example, provided the age difference is under 10 years and the child is not under 13, there should be more nuance to that but you get the idea.

2. It is a game of shame that isolates them from ever having a normal life and finding a willing mate and a job.

3. More and more I have noticed people who where 14 at the time appearing on the list. There is Hugh number in Washington state for example.

4. Most sexton offenders do not reoffend. States have studied this and yet we find a group of women on Tv claiming the opposite. Those women are putting your children in danger by increasing the recidivism rate.

5. Make courts listen to a non biased doctor to determine who should be on the list.

6. Law enforcement is using its time finding idiots who share child porn on file sharing networks, these are not people paying for it. And it has pushed these people to use covert networks. What that means is that when someone shares a recent offense they will not be able to go and arrest the person. They are doing this for their own advancement because it is easy.


"Laws requiring sex offenders to register with local authorities are meant to discourage them from moving into the neighborhoods, but the latest study shows they may not be having the desired deterrent effect.  This first paragraph is totally and completely unrelated to the Sex Offender Notification Act."  What an ignorant and stupid statement!  

By the way, sex offenders move allot because they are not allowed normal lives.  They are run out of neighborhoods, harrased by the police, discriminated against in employment, housing, education, churches, and especially by the justice system.  

Many states are finally beginning to recognize the harm done by the AWA and SORNA.  Numerous states refuse to recognize AWA or enforce our federal goverenments - Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

Now to be more serious; why aren't our citizens worried about our largest group in prison and on the streets "DRUG OFFENDERS"?  What about it folks?  You are most likely to be exposed to a serious drug offense crime than a sex offender crime.  Let's keep our children doped up with illegal drugs and drugs prescribed by the new drug dealer/pusher, your medical doctor.

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I really don't understand the true purpose of this article.  Most of the information presented is not substantiated or qualified. The persons commenting  have better information. There are many studies done by our Federal Government and private groups who have studied the affects of AWA and the Sex Offender Notification Registration Act (SORNA).  It is commonly agreed that AWA is not an effective monitoring system.  Primarily AWA black lists people from society and they do this unconstitutionally.  Additrionally our laws regarding registered sex offenders are indifferent to international Human Rights Laws.  Our beloved and malevolent President, George Bush signed this misoneism act into law not to mention our congress supported and approved the AWA.  This is the most heinous offense against our citizens and the laws of our land I have ever seen and I am 65 years old.  


My thoughts are that every single case needs to be fully examined and a full justification of that sex offender label should be made prior to just handing it out...if the crime warrants be it! But then follow up, expectations for future living arrangements, work options and a full rehab. plan should be made and enforced at the time of sentencing. Instead, they pass the judgments and then say " oh yeah, check in every 6 mos and let us know where you are." The fear of getting sent to jail alone would make anyone not run check in if they were not able to find a "proper" living arrangement.

Hold them accountable 100%!! If our fears are that "they" could do this again, guess what? You are right...or they might do something worse if they feel they have nothing else to lose.


I have seen firsthand what this generic label can do to a person...yes a person. My brother was found guilty of a charge that most people would laugh at and at a time when the sex offender laws were being developed...two underage girls peaking over a fence saw him showering outside after a day of landscaping....neither here nor there...he was found guilty and charged. This "label" has forever changed his life...luckily he is not the revenge seeker type..he lives every day scared that he will break a rule or regulation by not being able to conform to the expansive list of requirements. Try finding employment, much less a place to live with that hanging over your head!

I am NOT protecting ANYONE that has been found guilty of any type of crime that would warrant this sex offender label....just the opposite. If a person touched or mentally abused another person, especially a child...the punishment should be even more extreme. An example should be made and extensive coverage of the charges should be covered to warn these people of the severity of their crimes.


Welp, that's me and has been since 2000. The offense was being caught in possession of three Traci Lords VHS tapes (look it up). My offense was in 1997, and I too was grandfathered in. See, I had no chance to get a new trial (I stupidly pled no-contest to keep it out of the news). I had no chance to go back and change my plea because of a new punishment added. And before you say it's just "monitoring" and not punishment, read on.

The home I built for years with my girlfriend and son was deemed too close to a school, so I had to sell it. And I sold it at a huge loss. I had 90 days to be out, so I gave up much of my life savings just to get out of it. Since the SRO was "the flavor of the day" I could not rent any apartment managed by a large company. I ended up in a string of shitty places. How long of a string? Between 2000 and now, 21 different places. Often the neighbors harass us or the police favor the street in front of my house. You see, if you just did some research, those three Traci Lords tapes found in my trash be a scavenging neighbor made me in possession of child pornography.

My girlfriend left me at the urging of her best friend, who turned into her boyfriend. She left me full custody of my developmentally disabled son. He's 12 now and lives with me today. But what life have we got?

I've worked a cumulative sum of 4 years in the last 13. I worked in a public safety profession. For those that don't do background checks, invariably someone Googles your name. The SRO in my state doesn't allow search engines to index them. By with the rubber-necking world that we live in, salicious websites like, it's very popular to aggregate mug shots and post them. Everyone needs a good public shaming...right? Even my son.

Fast forward to 2013. I haven't seen a penny in my savings account in nearly a decade. I haven't had a steady job in 18 months...not McDonalds or even the Oil Change place, which would consider me a threat, even under a car. We have exhausted our government benefits. My son gets the groceries we get from food banks, and I eat his left overs. Clothes come from friends.

I have planned a dignified "out" for myself if I can ever get his worthless mother interested in being a parent again to him. I really pray that day will come soon. It's getting harder and harder for him to be comfortable sleeping in the backseat, as he is growing so tall.

And what job was I doing when I was prosecuted for my evil deed? I was a cop. And of the tapes? I'd forgot about them and they were in a junk box I was throwing away. No run ins with the law before or since.

The sex offender registry isn't a regulation tool in the name of public safety. It's the scarlet letter. It's a lifetime shaming. And with 98% of all sexual assaults of children being at the hands of a house guest or family member, you can be very sure those folks aren't on the list.

TL, DR; The Adam Walsh Act is a waste of money that destroys families. Calling it useful legislation is disillusion.


People can get sex-offender status by simply being caught peeing in public.  Behaving as if all people labeled 'sex-offender' are child molesters doesn't serve any purpose.


With all due respect, I am very surprised that TIME allowed this article to be published.  Besides being full of misinformation, it is done without fact.  The Adam Walsh Act was not created to "discourage" the sex offender from moving into neighborhoods, it was created to keep track of those offenders.  According to the Department of Justice website, sex offenders have one of the LOWEST recidivism rates in the country, with less than 3%. Even Adam Walsh himself stated that the registry is not being used for what it was designed for.

The article does not state whether the offender lived in the neighborhood prior to committing his/her offense.  They would be "grandfathered" in, in that scenario.  Most sex offenses happen in the home, by someone close to the victim, ie a family friend or relative.  It is extremely uncommon to see a report of an offender moving into a neighborhood, then re-offending.

Most studies, including those by Jill Levinson, report that the residency restrictions do nothing to protect the public.  If an offense is going to happen, an offender would most likely do it somewhere far away from his residence, giving him/her less chance of being caught.  Highly publicized cases create a type of panic in the public, which result in "feel-good" laws, that are ineffective and useless.

By creating such laws as the residency restrictions, some sex offenders are forced to go underground, because there is no place for them to live.  By not allowing them to reintegrate back into society, we are forcing them to live a life that could be a factor in re-offending. Again, let me restate the fact that nationally, less than 3% of all sex offenders re-offend.

Maybe its time to realize that its ok to hate the crime, just don't hate the person.  The myth that sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated is also based on false information.  Give them the opportunity to prove it, instead of forcing them into hiding, making them homeless, and less of a human being.


Forget it - I found it myself.

It's a shame that almost all of Mr. Murray's research, funded by federal grants from the National Science Foundation, is published in private journals behind expensive paywalls. Glad to see the for-profit company publishing his latest work in their expensive compilation sent out a press release offering free copies to journalists and found one taker.


Can you please include a link to the study that you quote from throughout this article? Seems kind of basic.


I know of an offender who registered one address where he picked up his mail twice a week and lived somewhere else because he didn't want to be victimized by vigilantes or looked at funny by the neighbors.   Looks like that was a waste of $600,0000,000 a year.  And the Facebook/internet stuff is a joke too.  Registering email accounts is on the honor system.  Do you think an offender has honor?