Section 7: The Legal and Legislative Response
1 Hour, 30 Minutes

Lecture TopicTOPIC: THE LEGAL AND LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE

Part V: How Do States Apply Community Notification Laws to Juvenile Sex Offenders?

Much like federal registration requirements, federal community notification laws also do not prescribe how these laws should be applied to juveniles at the state level. However, several states have community notification laws that include provisions for juvenile sex offenders.37

Use SlideUse Slide #27: Juveniles Subject to Community Notification

In 22 states, juvenile sex offenders may be subjected to community notification. Those states are:38

Alabama
Arkansas
Colorado
Delaware
Hawaii
Indiana
Iowa
Kentucky
Massachusetts
Mississippi
Nevada

New Jersey
North Carolina
Ohio
Oregon
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

Much like the objections to registration requirements for juvenile sex offenders, a number of researchers have suggested that notification cannot be reasonably applied to juveniles in the same way it is to adult sex offenders because of a number of developmental and other factors we have already mentioned.39

Use SlideUse Slide #28: Additional Concerns With Applying Notification Laws to Juveniles

We talked in the treatment section about some of the common goals of our work with juvenile sex offenders, including helping them to explore and use effective coping strategies, encouraging them to develop prosocial skills and competencies, establishing positive peer relationships, and promoting family functioning. Can you see why it might be difficult for these kids to meet such goals when faced with the community being notified about their status as a sex offender? We already know that a lot of these youth don’t have the best coping strategies or interpersonal skills. For many of them, notification can exacerbate their inability to make connections with prosocial people, to maintain friendships, to get jobs, or to strike out and find healthy leisure activities in which to take part. Additionally, for some, the stress of notification can “take over” their lives—some treatment providers have noted that discussions about the negative effects of notification (and registration) on these youths and their families can dominate treatment sessions that should be focused on other more substantive goals of treatment.40

In sum, notification can pose a significant barrier to the juvenile’s ability to successfully reintegrate back into his community and can have other unintended negative consequences for the victims of these crimes and the families of offenders and victims. As a result of these and other considerations, a number of states either completely exempt juveniles from community notification practices (e.g., Louisiana and New Hampshire41) or have developed restrictions or limitations on how it can be carried out (e.g., Idaho and Texas42). These restrictions and limitations can include which offenses trigger notification (e.g., only more serious cases prompt widespread notification) as well as who is notified (e.g., law enforcement or school personnel only in appropriate cases).

One Example of a Specialized Approach to Juvenile Community Notification: Alabama

The Alabama legislature took into consideration the ways in which juvenile offenders are different from adult offenders when they developed the state’s community notification legislation for juveniles.43 They explained their desire to have a differentiated approach in this way:

Juvenile sex offenders, like their adult counterparts, pose a danger to the public. Research has shown, however, that there are significant differences between adult and juvenile criminal sexual offenders. Juveniles are much more likely to respond favorably to sexual offender treatment. Juvenile offenders have a shorter history of committing sexual offenses. They are less likely to have deviant sexual arousal patterns and are not as practiced in avoiding responsibility for their abusive behavior. Juveniles are dependent upon adults for food and shelter, as well as the emotional and practical support vital to treatment efforts. Earlier intervention increases the opportunity for success in teaching juveniles how to reduce their risk of sexually re–offending. The Legislature finds that juvenile criminal sex offenders should be subject to the Community Notification Act, but that certain precautions should be taken to target the juveniles that pose the more serious threats to the public.
Use SlideUse Slide #29: Specialized Approaches to Juvenile Notification: Alabama Law

The Legislature ultimately revised the state’s notification law to create different provisions for juvenile sex offenders. Juvenile sex offenders are no longer subject to automatic community notification, but are required to receive sex offender treatment and must register with the local authorities upon release from the juvenile court's supervision. Prior to the release of a juvenile sex offender, treatment providers supply a risk assessment of the juvenile to the sentencing court and the juvenile probation officer. Unless otherwise ordered by the sentencing court, the juvenile sex offender is not subject to notification upon release unless the court determines there is a need for notification. If this is the case, cases are assessed on an individual basis to determine the most effective and judicious use of notification. This is, of course, what we have covered throughout this curriculum—that treatment, supervision, and other practices in juvenile sex offender management should be developed based on a comprehensive assessment of each individual offender.

Considering whether or how to implement registration and community notification laws with sexually abusive youth is no easy task. As you have probably surmised, there is no one “right” approach. At the very least, however, it is important to take into account what we know about these youth and how they differ from adult sex offenders, so that any legislative responses are, to some degree, informed by the available research as well as an appreciation for the potential for collateral consequences. And a thorough cost–benefits analysis can be a very helpful exercise for those who are considering or reconsidering their statutes in this area.

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