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California Website Reduces Repeat Sex Offenders, Study Says

William Encinosa

GPPI professor William Encinosa says the study he and Michael Roussis did on a California website with a searchable sex offender database is "probably the first really big evidence that there is some kind of impact."

August 1, 2011 – A state-run website in California that allows people to search for sex offenders in their communities reduced both the recidivism rate of sex crimes and the severity of repeat sex crimes, according to a new study by a Georgetown professor and graduate student.

The Florida Coastal Law Review published the study, conducted by GPPI professor William Encinosa and Michael Roussis (L‘11, G‘11), in its Spring 2011 edition.

The study revealed that a California bill passed in 2004 giving the public access to sex offender information over the Internet has had a deterring effect on convicted sex offenders.  

“[The bill] made a big difference – controlling for several factors, it reduced the overall number of arrests for sex offenses,” Encinosa said. “It also reduced repeat offenses, and then it reduced the severity of those offenses.”

Protecting the Public

Roussis was watching the TV show To Catch a Predator when he got the idea for the study. The show uses hidden cameras to identify those who contact people they believe are minors for purposes of engaging in sexual liaisons.

The graduate student, who was taking Encinosa’s master’s thesis course this past spring, asked if the adjunct associate professor could help him analyze arrests in California from 2001 to 2008.

The professor and student found that the rate of four-year recidivism of sex crimes dropped 30 percent after Assembly Bill 488 passed, and that the probability of repeat sex offense involving rape declined from 21 percent to 16 percent.

The probability that a repeat sex crime was a serious crime against a child declined from 46.5 percent to 26.4 percent.

 Deterring Crimes

“This study is important in assessing whether California's decision to increase transparency regarding sex offender registration has protected the public,” Roussis said. “The California Department of Justice website, which provides citizens with information on registered sex offenders, has succeeded in deterring sex crimes.”

Individuals may search the California Department of Justice Internet database by a sex offender’s name and then obtain a zip code, city and county listings and personal profile information on each offender. In some cases, the public may use the map application to search an offender’s specific location.

Internet Evidence

Encinosa says the study results most likely indicate that recidivism is lowered both because the criminals don’t want their crimes to be public and because it makes the average neighborhood more alert.

“It’s coming from both ends of the spectrum,” he explains.

“Surprisingly, the literature doesn’t really have good evidence that these Internet sites make a difference in reducing sex offenses,” said Encinosa.  “This is probably the first really big evidence that there is some kind of impact.”

To read the study, please visit the Florida Coastal Law Review’s website.

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