Changes Considered for VA's Sex Offender Registry

Feb 9, 2016

State lawmakers will soon consider a bill that could make it easier for convicted sex offenders to find employment when they get out of prison.  It passed easily in the Senate, but it may fail in the House, and at least one expert thinks it might not make that much difference.

Experts agree that steady employment makes it less likely that someone convicted of a crime will break the law again, but Virginia is doing something that makes it harder for sex offenders to find work.  State police include the names of their employers on a public registry.  At Virginia Commonwealth University, Assistant Professor Christina Mancini says getting rid of that requirement might be a good thing.  

“The idea is if maybe employers don’t feel stigmatized, they’ll be more likely to hire the offenders.  Potentially vigilantism is reduced, because there’s a layer of privacy given back to the offender.”

Sex offenders listed on public registries are sometimes attacked or killed once they’re released from prison.  Virginia’s Senate approved a bill to end the listing of employers by a vote of 22 to 17, but similar measures have failed in the state House, which has yet to act on the proposal.
And Mancini,an expert on sex crime policy, says it may not matter all that much, because most people don’t look at registries.

What studies are telling us is that people don’t regularly access these.  Only about one in three according to national statistics will go on to a registry at all. And we have very little data on the frequency of use, and that’s important too.  These are continually updated. What’s more, those who consult public lists of sex offenders are unlikely to do anything with the information.

"Even after going on the registry, they don’t make significant changes to their behavior.  They don’t talk to their kids about stranger danger, about neighbors  who may be an offender.  They don’t install additional locks.  They’re not changing their behavior in ways that we would think would reduce their risk of sexual victimization."

Virginia is one of only six states that require an employer’s name be listed alongside those on sex offender registries.  While Senate Bill 11 would prevent the public from seeing that information, police would have access.