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Sex Offender Community Notification: Assessing the Impact in Wisconsin

December 2000 Wisconsin:
.A Department of Justice study of the impact of Wisconsin's notification law summarized interviews with 30 offenders. Eighty-three percent of the offenders said that notification resulted in "exclusion from residence"; 77% reported "threats/harassment"; 67% reported "emotional harm to family members" and "ostracized by neighbors/acquaintances"; and 50% reported "loss of employment." . . . "Results of the study indicate that, in general, community notification was used the way legislative policymakers intended it to be used, namely to further community protection. However, the decision to notify and involve the public in an informal network of neighborhood surveillance comes at the cost of increased community anxiety, impeded offender reintegration, and drained agency resources." ..more.. : by United States Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice

P-9-10: Findings from sex offender interviews

Another aspect of this study was the insight provided by the subjects of community notification meetings and other expanded notification actions. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 30 sex offenders in communities throughout Wisconsin. Interview subjects were selected based on their status as Level 3 SBN sex offenders, their notification exposure in the community, and their willingness to participate in the study. Two incarcerated incarcerated sex offender interviewees were in revocation status due to technical parole violations. The others were under community supervision. They were all males (exhibit 6). .........

All but one interviewee stated that the community notification process adversely affected their transition from prison to the outside world. Loss of employment, exclusion from residence, and the breakup of personal relationships were frequently cited consequences of expanded notification actions and ensuing detrimental publicity (exhibit 7). Seventy-seven percent told of being humiliated in their daily lives, ostracized by neighbors and lifetime acquaintances, and harassed or threatened by nearby residents or strangers. Although only one interviewee was on the receiving end of what might be described as a vigilante action, all expressed various degrees of concern for their own safety.

Two-thirds of the interviewed sex offenders also spoke of how community notification unfavorably affected the lives of family members, including parents, siblings, and offspring. Several cited emotionally painful examples. One interviewee talked of his mother’s anguish and depression following newspaper accounts stemming from notification. Another spoke of his son’s decision to quit his high school football team because of ridicule from teammates, and a third related how his sister was shunned by former friends. Five interviewees who lived in the same communities as their victims expressed concern for how expanded notification and renewed public attention might affect their victims.7 ................

Several sex offenders complained of being arbitrarily singled out from among hundreds of sex offenders in the State for community notification. They traced their difficulty in finding a place to live and in keeping a job to community notification and media sensationalism. Some of the interviewees were angered that they had to accept residence in minimum-security prisons or correctional centers because of the lack of alternative housing in the community. Expanded notification has created enormous obstacles in locating housing resources for returning sex offenders.

P-10: Exhibit 7. Consequences of notification, as reported by offenders
ProblemPct. Reporting
Exclusion of residence83%
Emotional harm to family members67%
Ostracized by neighbors / acquaintenances67%
Loss of employment57%
Added pressure from probation / parole agents50%
Vigilante attack3%

eAdvocate comment on Vigilante Action:
Parole and probation agents have no definition of what a "vigilante action" is which makes me wonder who was threatening and harassing 77% of the sex offenders? Further, who was inflicting the emotional harm on family members? I certainly would not call these people friends.

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