The social costs of juveniles on sex-offender registries far outweigh benefits
WASHINGTON (Sept. 29, 2015) – The net social cost of applying sex-offender registration and notification laws to those who commit offenses as juveniles could be as high as $3 billion a year, with most of those costs incurred by neighbors of registered offenders, according to a new benefit-cost analysis from the R Street Institute.
Author and R Street Associate Fellow Richard B. Belzer found that including juveniles in sex-offender registries produced net costs of between -$40 million and -$1 billion per year, while only reducing sex-offense recidivism by about one-eighth.
“Registration would have to reduce incidence by at least 60 percent to yield positive net benefits,” Belzer wrote. “Incidence reductions of this magnitude has not been observed anywhere, or even suggested by committed registration advocates.”
Applying notification laws to juvenile offenders produces no identifiable social benefits, with social costs that range from $400 million to $2 billion per year. About 75 percent of notification costs are actually incurred by neighbors.
“The analysis shows that public notification is almost certainly a highly cost-ineffective way to reduce future sex offenses,” Belzer wrote. “No evidence has been found indicating that there are any social benefits. Thus, reform of notification laws appears to be the most plausible class of reform alternative that warrants consideration from an economic-efficiency perspective.”
The paper offers a retrospective analysis the draws from the literature on the effects of federal laws like the Adam Walsh Act and Megan’s Law, as well as state sex-offender registries, to outline costs borne by various entities, including the registrants themselves, their families, homeowners, renters and landlords, businesses, schools and the public.
Belzer also uses a prospective benefit-cost analysis that could use reforms to lessen some of the costs associated with the registry. These include exempting certain groups of offenders, terminating new registrations for certain kinds of offenders or enacting stays of notification pending future good conduct.
“The mere presence of information in the public domain means that the costs to juvenile offenders of public notification are, for all practical purposes, already sunk,” Belzer writes. “Nearly all benefits from reform will accrue from the non-registration or nondisclosure of registry status of new juvenile offenders.”