Society has always held a particular sense of revulsion toward sex offenders. Unfortunately, Canada's government, charged with the duty of protecting its people, is more ambivalent about sexual crimes and, until recently, had done little to diminish the risk sexual offenders pose to society once they are released from custody.
On Dec. 15 -- after more than a decade of lobbying by police officers, the provinces and victims' rights groups -- a national sex offender registration system finally became a reality.
A national database will allow police to track the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders once released from prison. Within 15 days of being released from jail, offenders will be required to provide local police with a current address, phone number, fingerprints, photographs and information on identifying body marks. This information, and their criminal records, will be registered and updated on an annual basis or when they move.
The good news is that this is a significant step forward in enabling police to rapidly locate likely suspects in a specific area when a sex crime has been committed or a child has been abducted. Locating potential offenders quickly is a critical factor when children go missing: It is estimated that 44% of children who are abducted for sexual assault and then killed are dead within one hour, 74% within three hours, and 91% within 24 hours.
The bad news is that the registry may be too little, too late. Because of some inherent flaws, it won't be able to reach its full potential as a tool for public protection.
The first such flaw -- and a potentially fatal one -- is that it assumes just-released convicts will behave in the first 15 days of their release, prior to registration. British Columbia's Solicitor General, Rich Coleman, recently stated that most sex offenders will reoffend within the first 72 hours of leaving prison. That means the public remains fully exposed to the violent whims of the sex offender at the very time when he is most likely to act.
Secondly, although the registry is finally an open book, it's also an empty book. Names of all previously convicted sex offenders won't be entered until they reoffend. So most offenders will still be unregistered, freely moving about Canada and perhaps even committing offences until they are caught and convicted again.
Thirdly, names are not entered on the registry unless ordered by a judge. That grants significant leeway to the judge and court officials who, being frequently subjected to stories covering a wide range of sexual offences, may be more likely to deem an offence to be relatively minor and not sufficiently horrific to warrant listing a name and impinging on an individual's freedom for a lifetime. Further, our federal government continues its willingness to subjugate public safety concerns to individual rights, as it will allow offenders to legally challenge their inclusion in the registry. Again, judges will hear the challenges and have the discretion to remove names from the registry based on privacy concerns.
Perhaps most concerning is that the government may have created this registry while under the delusion that sex offenders only reoffend some of the time. A University of Toronto study recently published in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Sex Offender Recidivism: A Simple Question Harris and Hanson 2004) suggests quite the opposite and proposes that government/corrections officials continue to "grossly underestimate" the risk to reoffend. The study blames the miscalculations on incomplete data that considers only reconviction rates, not reoffending rates.
Researchers studied the police records and medical histories of offenders over a 30-year period and found that hospital records often included admissions of guilt that were missing from police records. Based on both police and hospital records, researchers found that 88.3% of sex offenders did reoffend -- most of them just weren't caught and convicted.This astounding revelation becomes even more disconcerting when coupled with the conclusions of a recent study (in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science) which found that treatment regimes for sex offenders have almost "no meaningful effect" on recidivism rates.
In contrast, the government relies on, and reports, only data from sex offenders who are caught and convicted of reoffending. Considering the high instance of under-reporting of sex crimes, it's likely more accurate to consider public risk based on reoffending rates, not reconviction rates.eAdvocate note: Notice how they arrive at a re-offending rate (88.3% 30 Year rate); based on general police records (not necessarily just convictions) and (hearsay medical histories (hospital records) compiled by hospital employees from self-reports of sexual acts by hospitalized offenders)
In other words, nine of 10 sex offenders are guaranteed to reoffend -- it makes no difference whether or not they underwent treatment programs -- and they will reoffend within hours or days of their release.
The current sex offender registry is a start. But it's limited in its protective values and won't be at all helpful if its creation allows the government to rest easy in the errant belief that it has done all it can to assure the public's safety. ..Source.. by Susan Martinuk