While working at home yesterday, I received an automated phone call from the Wellesley Police Department informing me of an important announcement available on the Department's web site. The announcement indicated that a convicted sex offender, having complied with the Massachusets Set Offender Registry Law, was now working in Wellesley (although living elsewhere). The web site includes a recent photograph of the offender.
I find Sex Registries troubling. Many sex offenders no doubt pose a substantial risk of recidivism, and it is understandable that people wish to be forewarned.
But the registries seem unwise. For starters, registries give the public a false sense of security. Even if the residents of an offender's place of residence and place of work take precautions, the offender has innumerable other opporunities to recidivate in adjacent locations. So the effect of registries on the incidence of sex crimes is probably miniscule.
In addition, registries might, if anything, increase the chances of recidivism by making it hard for offenders to re-integrate into society.
So what can society do to protect itself against sex offenders? The obvious answer is to make sentences for such offenses far longer. That has a cost -- roughly $30,000 per year for incarceration -- but it is certainly effective so long as an offender is behind bars. And since the likelihood of recidivism for sex crimes may well decline substantially beyond a certain age, the incidence of recidivism is likely to be low for sufficently old offenders.