Sex Offender Registries and Community Notification Laws:
An Ethical Dilemma
OM 4803 - Organizational Ethics
John Brown University
Introduction of the Facts
Sex offenders in American society are often seen as repulsive, violent individuals that deserve to be feared and punished to the fullest extent of the law. Their crimes are deemed the worst kind of violation of another human being. In fact, “the vehemence of the hatred for sex offenders is unmatched by attitudes to any other offenders” (Logan, 1999). Many state and federal laws have been passed in an effort to protect the public from these predatory sex ...view middle of the document...
Today, all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have some sort of registration requirement for criminal sex offenders (Logan, 1999).
Introduction to the Conflicting Principles and Values
At their core, sex offender registries and community notification laws are intended to protect victims, potential victims, and the public from further harm done by offenders. This is accomplished by keeping track of offenders and making their places of residence and details of their crimes known. The community notifications satisfy the public’s “right to know.” Further, the laws are thought to increase community awareness, knowledge of violent predators, and vigilance in the protection of children and other victims. In addition to educating the general public, registries also provide law enforcement officials with a valuable tool to identify, monitor, and track sex offenders (Scholle, 2000). Lastly, and perhaps the most controversial, is the premise that the registries and notifications provide preventive or deterrent effects for sex offenders. Supporters say that the laws “not only protect against crime but deter it: both for the potential offender…as well as for those who might otherwise commit a first sex offense but for the potential impact” (Logan, 1999).
In contrast to the possible protection sex offender laws provide, registries and notifications impact an offender’s right to privacy. The offender has no control over what personal information will be gathered or published, or to whom the information will be given. The increased community awareness might also serve to create an environment of vigilantism and harassment towards the offender. Although law enforcement officials use registries to track offenders, these lists are inclusive of all levels of offenders, and can be counterproductive by making “it harder for law enforcement to focus its resources on the truly dangerous” sex offenders (Hardenbergh, 2009). Finally, the deterrent effect of these laws is also in question. A 1995 study conducted by the State of Washington found that “sex offender notification only creates an illusion of safety...[and] there is no evidence to suggest that notification is effective in reducing sex offense” rates or recidivism (Jacobs, 2003).
The Ethical Question
The controversy surrounding sex offender registry and community notifications laws is clear. Both sides of the issue present compelling arguments in defense of their respective positions. The question examined in this paper is: Is it ethical for law enforcement officials to require sex offenders to comply with post-conviction registries and to disseminate the registry information to the public?
Analysis of the Situation
Analysis of the Conflicting Principles and Values
The first issue is whether the public’s right to know outweighs an offender’s right to privacy. Proponents of community notifications argue that the information disseminated is imperative to...