If you’re a registered sex offender, then you’ve likely undergone some form of risk assessment, purportedly to determine how likely it is that you will commit another sex offense..
Writing for Truthout, Erica Meiners questions whether risk assessment tools are an effective way to predict future criminal activity, or whether they’re merely a tool to justify locking people up indefinitely.
While locking people up for potential crimes might sound like a middling Tom Cruise movie, or a new FX series, this future is now. Through predictive policing, criminogenics and risk assessment, our current wave of criminal justice reform argues that we can identify who is dangerous, who is likely to break the law. Risk assessment is increasingly used to determine who will be released on bail, who will be sentenced to prison, who will be granted parole and who will be kept on supervision once released.
This is especially true in the world of sex offenses, where more than 5,000 people are held in civil commitment facilities, sometimes long after their prison sentences end.
While locking up people with convictions for sex offenses for years beyond their legal sentences may sound appealing to people seeking to combat sexual violence in our society, in truth, post-release punishments for people with convictions for sex offenses have done nothing verifiable to reduce rates of sexual violence. There is no research that suggests that sex offender registries and the multiplying regime of community notification laws, for example, have reduced child sexual violence, caught perpetrators, or protected children: Research supported by the US Department of Justice concludes that Megan’s Law, a key federal law that contributed to the establishment of sex offender registries, “has no effect on reducing the number of victims involved in sexual offenses.” States with civil commitment do not have lower rates of child sexual violence than states without civil commitment. Labeling the passports of people with convictions for sex offenses, or limiting their housing options and employment opportunities, does not reduce child sexual violence.
Meiners delves into the history of risk assessment, and its resurgence in recent years, with talk of criminal justice reform. But what is the purpose of “reforming” a system that may not actually work?
Similarly, cities pay to expand facilities to monitor those with convictions for sex offenses, including civil commitment institutions, despite the fact that research has demonstrated that registries, and an array of other punitive responses, have neither protected children nor ended sexual violence. If our goal is to end, or reduce, sexual violence, why not focus and support proven preventative measures, including meaningful sex education and non-stigmatizing mental health care? Why not focus on ending patriarchy?
Read Meiners’ full article at Truthout.