Community notification laws have been enacted in response to public demand. There is, as yet, little empirical evidence of their impact. Accordingly, most benefits of community notification are more accurately described as expectations. Future research is needed to identify the actual benefits of community notification.
Proponents of community notification suggest the following benefits:
- The Right to Know. Community residents, and parents in particular, have the right to know if a potentially dangerous person is living in their neighborhood.
- Public Safety. With knowledge that a person with a history of sexually abusive behavior lives nearby, citizens can better protect themselves, their children, and their neighbors' children.
- Increased Surveillance and Supervision. Community notification alerts convicted offenders that the larger community, not just law enforcement, is monitoring them.
- A Treatment Tool. Overcoming denial is an important element of intervention with sex offenders. Community notification, some argue, encourages therapeutic intervention by serving as an external control that limits the offender's ability to live in secrecy and by threatening public exposure, which encourages compliance with treatment conditions. Research is lacking on the relationship between public exposure and self-referral to treatment programs. Anecdotal evidence, however, raises some concerns: The Stop It Now Pilot Program in Vermont operates a toll-free information hotline. In addition to other forms of assistance, the hotline provides callers with a number to call for referrals to confidential psychosexual assessments. At the height of media publicity about community notification laws, program operators reported that hotline calls dropped significantly, suggesting that the likelihood of public exposure deterred offenders from seeking treatment.
- Communication Among Community Groups. Community notification offers the opportunity for more than simply sending letters to community residents or posting signs at community intersections. Rather, the implementation of notification laws can increase collaborative efforts among community members to promote public safety through the sharing of information and education.