The Social and Psychological Impact of Sex Offender Community Notification on the Residents of Phoenix, Arizona

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Student Contributions
November 2006
Howard Birnbaum

In the mid-1990s Congress enacted legislation designed to protect the public from sex offenders who were released from corrections into the community. The depraved nature of the crimes committed by these types of offenders, and the subsequent public demand that something be done, evoked a legislative response. The new laws required sex offenders to register with law enforcement, and mandated that law enforcement, in tum, notify communities when sex offenders were being released into their neighborhoods. It was believed that awareness that a sex offender was living in their midst would allow residents to take precautions necessary to protect themselves and their families.

To assess whether notification enhanced residents' perceptions oftheir safety, or influenced their decisions concerning how they would protect themselves, a survey of citizens residing in Phoenix, Arizona was conducted (Katz and Webb, 2006). Five designated geographical areas were categorized based upon the number of sex offenders living within area boundaries. Study areas were characterized as: low, which contained no sex offenders; medium, which contained one to three sex offenders; high, which contained four or more sex offenders; and "transitional" and Tampico, each of which contained a concentration of sex offenders that exceeded that found in the high area. The present study examines the social and psychological impact that notification had on citizens living in these five areas. Survey respondents were asked whether notification had affected their safety consciousness, their likelihood of going out alone, and their level of community involvement.