Thursday, May 12, 2005

stigma and sex offenders

When I visit prisons I'm struck by how many inmates are serving time for sex offenses in the Minnesota system and the degree of stigma that attaches to their crimes -- both inside and outside the gates. Once applied, the "sex offender" label is far more stigmatizing than "murderer" or "arsonist" and incredibly tough to remove. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's editorial staff came out today against the strict proposal being considered by the MN House -- special license plates for former offenders, big sentence increases (automatic life without parole for first- and second-degree sex offenses and prison terms of 20 years to life for recidivists convicted of less serious offenses), and even chemical castration. A few years ago, I wrote an article with Candace Kruttschnitt and Kelly Shelton on the subject. Of 448 sex offenders on probation, only 19 committed new sex crimes within 5 years. I can certainly understand the state's interest in incapacitating rapists and child molesters. Nevertheless, these proposals would be extremely costly and likely provide little payoff in public safety -- particularly in an environment of declining resources for local police forces and state corrections agencies.