Special Considerations for Juvenile Sex Offenders

Although the initial establishment of sex offender registration and community notification policies primarily targeted adult sex offenders, many states have since enacted legislation to include juvenile sex offenders (see, e.g., Becker & Hicks, 2003; Garfinkle, 2003; Heinz & Ryan, 1997; Matson & Lieb, 1997; Trivits & Reppucci, 2002; Zimring, 2004). The application of these types of legal policies paralleled the trend with treatment and supervision strategies, whereby adult models of treatment and adult–oriented approaches to supervision were simply applied to juvenile sex offenders.

As professionals’ understanding of juvenile sex offenders began to expand, controversies about their existing “adult–like” clinical and legal management arose, primarily because of concerns about the negative impact that labeling could have on peer relationships, social isolation, and a sense of identity (see, e.g., Bremer, 2003; Chaffin & Bonner, 1998; Chaffin et al., 2002; Freeman–Longo, 1996; Garfinkle, 2003; Letourneau & Miner, 2005; Trivits & Reppucci, 2002; Zimring, 2004). In addition, because many victims of juvenile sex offenders are family members, the identities of victims may be identifiable through community notification (Freeman–Longo, 1996).

Nonetheless, a “treat juveniles like adults” philosophy remains even today and is perhaps most notable in the legal policy arena (see, e.g., Becker & Hicks, 2003; Bumby & Talbot, 2007; Garfinkle, 2003; Letourneau, 2006; Letourneau & Miner, 2005; Zimring, 2004). This speaks to the importance of collaboration between researchers in the field of juvenile sex offender management and key policymakers, in order to ensure that they have the benefit of specialized information about juvenile sex offenders as a means of informing policy development.

Sex offender management experts and legal scholars alike emphasize the importance of taking into account the ever–growing body of research about juvenile sex offenders when crafting policies such as registration and notification.

For jurisdictions that opt to require registration and notification for juvenile sex offenders, it may be worthwhile for stakeholders to consider the agency within which juveniles’ information will be maintained, the range of parties that will have access to this information, and the potential for termination of registration requirements (see, e.g., Garfinkle, 2003; Trivitz & Reppucci, 2002). Some states maintain juvenile sex offender registries within the juvenile court or juvenile supervision agency rather than with the local law enforcement agency. This allows for collecting and maintaining registry information, while also allowing for increased protections and safeguards. Rather than being maintained on the statewide registry used for adults, information is provided about these youth only to a limited range of parties on a “need to know” basis. Similarly, recognizing the importance of developmental considerations for juvenile sex offenders and the promising treatment outcome data, some states have enacted registration provisions for juveniles that allow for the termination of registration requirements once registrants reach adulthood (i.e., ranging from 18–21 years of age) (Garfinkle, 2003; Matson & Lieb, 1997; Szymanski, 2003b, 2003c). Where such provisions do not exist, states may wish to consider policies that afford juvenile sex offenders the ability to petition the courts for relief from registration requirements after a demonstrated period of community adjustment and stability. Some states exempt juveniles from community notification practices altogether, or have limited notification practices only to those juveniles who have been determined to pose a high risk to the community (see, e.g., ATSA, 2000; Garfinkle, 2003; Heinz & Ryan, 1997; Matson & Lieb, 1997; Szymanski, 2003a; Trivitz & Reppucci, 2002).

Sex offender management experts and legal scholars alike emphasize the importance of taking into account the ever–growing body of research about juvenile sex offenders when crafting policies such as registration and notification (see, e.g., ATSA, 2000; Becker & Hicks, 2003; Letourneau & Miner, 2005; Trivitz & Reppucci, 2002; Zimring, 2004). Most salient are the key developmental differences between adults and juveniles, low rates of sexual recidivism among juvenile sex offenders, evidence which suggests that these youth are not likely to continue offending sexually as adults, the effectiveness of community–based treatment, and concerns about collateral consequences (Chaffin, 2006; Fanniff & Becker, 2006; Garfinkle, 2003; Hunter, Gilbertson, Vedros, & Morton, 2004; Letourneau & Miner, 2005; Reitzel & Carbonell, 2006).