This paper examines the differences in State laws regarding sex offender notification and explores some innovative approaches to community notification and education in place across the United States.
The term "community notification" refers to the dissemination of identifying information to citizens and community organizations about convicted sex offenders who are released into the community. The primary objective of community notification is to ensure that members of the public can obtain information that can help them protect themselves and their families from dangerous sex offenders residing in their community. Federal guidelines allow States discretion in determining the approaches they will take to notification. There are variations in State community notification laws in the following areas: the procedures or guidelines for agencies to follow when performing a notification; the categories of offenders who are subject to notification; the scope, form, and content of notification; and the designation of an agency to perform notifications. State community notification laws can be divided into three categories, organized by the extent of notification: broad community notification, notification to those at risk, and passive notification (requiring citizens or community organizations to seek out sex offender information themselves). The process by which an offender is selected for community notification also varies from State to State. Various methods of disseminating information to the public about a sex offender are used. Most States use one or more of the following practices: media release, door-to-door flyers, mailed flyers, or Internet distribution. The central constitutional challenge to community notification statutes questions whether the burden imposed by the law constitutes punishment of the offender. Courts have generally found that notification laws are constitutional and that their principal purpose is regulatory in nature and not punitive. The negative and often unintended consequences of community notification can be harmful to communities and to sex offenders' efforts to reintegrate into society. Efforts to reduce these negative consequences involve education of citizens and explanation of laws, identification of offender risk, caution regarding exact address release, planning and foresight, cooperation with the media, and involvement of victim advocates. This paper describes innovative approaches to community notification in place in Connecticut, Oregon, and Washington, as well as specific jurisdictions in Arizona and Florida. A chart displays the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of notification. A listing of 9 contact organizations and 19 references
Date Published: April 1, 2001