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Washington State Institute for Public Policy
June 2011
Published as:

Lieb, R., Kemshall, H., & Thomas, T. (2011). Post-release controls for sex offenders in the U.S. and UK. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 34, 226-232. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2011.04.006

In recent years, both the United States and United Kingdom have developed numerous innovations in legal efforts to protect society from sex offenders. Each country has adopted special provisions for sex offenders. In particular, governments have focused on forms of social control after release from incarceration and probation. These policy innovations for this category of offenders have been more far reaching than those for any other offender population. The two jurisdictions have adopted policies with similar goals, but the selected strategies have important differences. Generally speaking, the U.S. has favored an ever-expanding set of policies that place sex offenders into broad categories, with few opportunities that distinguish the appropriate responses for individual offenders. The UK government observed the proliferation of Megan’s Laws in the U.S., and deliberately chose to establish carefully controlled releases of information, primarily relying on governmental agencies to work in multi-disciplinary groups and make case-specific decisions about individual offenders. Although the UK policy leaders expressed significant concern that the public’s response to knowing about identified sex offenders living in the community would result in vigilantism, to date the results have not born out this fear. Both governments have turned to other crime control measures such as polygraphy testing, electronic monitoring, and civil protection orders as a means to prevent further sexual violence.
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