Louisiana Law Review


Criminology, Crime prevention, Criminal justice administration, Legislation, Sex offender registration, Other Justice Public Order and Safety Activities, Expansion (Business)


The American public consistently ranks crime prevention as the single most important objective for the criminal justice system, putting this goal ahead of punishment, enforcement, and rehabilitation. One popular but controversial method recently employed to prevent recidivism is the use of offender registries. The most common type of registry currently in use is the sex-offender registry. Responding to the public's perception that sex offenders pose a particular risk to society, federal legislators--as well as legislators in all 50 states and the District of Columbia-- have enacted legislation creating mandatory sex-offender registries. The primary rationale for tracking and notification requirements was that giving the public access to information would allow citizens to protect themselves and other vulnerable members of society. A wealth of evidence suggests that sex-offender registries have not accomplished the goal of making citizens safer. Nevertheless, lawmakers in a number of states have proposed new crime registries for offenses ranging from crimes against children, to the manufacture of methamphetamine, to murder. Moreover, poll data has revealed that the American public supports expanding registries to include crimes other than sex offenses. The rising popularity of public crime registries in spite of evidence of their inefficacy is perplexing, until one considers the social science research revealing individuals' need to perceive control over anxiety-provoking threats. The illusion of control and attribution literature provides a rich body of work suggesting that the implementation of such registries, rather than providing any real instrumental advantage, serves to bolster feelings of self-efficacy and minimize public anxiety.

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