U.S. Department of Justice
Ofce of Justice Programs
Ofce of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking
Luis C.deBaca, Director • July 2015
Adult Sex Offender
In 2011, the SMART Office
began work on the Sex Offender
by Christopher Lobanov-Rostovsky
Management Assessment and
Planning Initiative (SOMAPI), a
project designed to assess the
state of research and practice in
sex offender management. As part
of the effort, the SMART Office
contracted with the National
Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)
revention and intervention strategies for sexual offending behavior,
and a team of subject-matter
experts to review the literature on
including sex offender management, have become increasingly prominent
sexual offending and sex offender
and important in the United States. The concept of sex offender
management and develop
summaries of the research for
management has been conceptualized under the construct of a Comprehensive
dissemination to the field. These
Approach to Sex Offender Management (CASOM) by the Center for Sex
summaries are available online at
Offender Management (CSOM). The CASOM model includes the fundamental
principles of a victim-centered approach, specialized knowledge and training
A national inventory of
for professionals, public education, monitoring and evaluation of strategies,
sex offender management
and multidisciplinary collaboration, as well as the critical components of
professionals also was conducted
in 2011 to gain insight about
investigation, prosecution, and disposition; assessment; treatment; supervision;
promising practices and pressing
needs in the field. Finally, a
Discussion Forum involving
Despite the intuitive value of using science to guide decisionmaking, laws and
national experts was held in 2012
for the purpose of reviewing
policies designed to combat sexual offending are often introduced or enacted
the research summaries and
in the absence of empirical support. However, there is little question that both
inventory results and refining
what is currently known about sex
offender management.
offender management strategies were based on evidence of effectiveness rather
Based on the work carried out
than other factors.
under SOMAPI, the SMART Office
has published a series of Research
This brief addresses sex offender management for adult sexual offenders. It
Briefs, each focusing on a topic
covered in the sexual offending
and sex offender management
implications, knowledge gaps, and unresolved controversies that emerge from
literature review. Each brief is
the extant research and that might serve as a catalyst for future empirical study.
designed to get key findings
from the literature review into
the hands of policymakers and
practitioners. Overall, the briefs are
intended to advance the ongoing
dialogue related to effective
interventions for sexual offenders
and provide policymakers and
practitioners with trustworthy, up-
to-date information they can use
to identify what works to combat
sexual offending and prevent
sexual victimization.
Summary of Research Findings
Specialized Supervision
The development and renement of specialized legal
supervision for sexual offenders has largely occurred
over the past 25 years. Specialized supervision
frequently involves specially trained probation and
parole ofcers who manage a caseload of sexual
offenders using sex-offender-specic supervision
strategies that include special conditions of supervision,
multidisciplinary collaboration with a treatment
provider, and, if appropriate and permissible, the use of
global positioning systems (GPS) and polygraph.
Several large-scale studies have assessed the
effectiveness of intensive supervision used with criminal
offenders. It is not known whether ndings from these
studies are generalizable to sex offender populations,
but the ndings provide important insights concerning
the effectiveness of intensive supervision overall. Results
of these studies found no research support for the
effectiveness of community-based Intensive Supervised
Probation (ISP) with a primary surveillance orientation
in reducing criminal recidivism (Aos, Miller, & Drake,
2006; Petersilia & Turner, 1993), but did nd research
support for the effectiveness of treatment-oriented ISP
(Aos, Miller, & Drake, 2006).
Questions about the effectiveness of intensive supervision
in the absence of treatment have led to the development
of intensive supervision programs with a treatment
orientation. A specic example is the containment
approach, which includes collaboration on specialized
supervision of sexual offenders provided by trained
supervision personnel, sex-offense-specic treatment, and
polygraph assessment. Research on the effectiveness of
specialized supervision strategies such as the containment
approach has been completed in a handful of jurisdictions
across the country with some studies showing
effectiveness, as measured by signicant reductions in
sexual recidivism, based upon the use of specialized
supervision models (Aytes et al., 2001; Lowden et al.,
2003; McGrath et al., 2003), while other studies found no
recidivism reduction for the program (Boone et al., 2006;
Stalans, Seng, & Yarnold, 2002).
Circles of Support and Accountability
The Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA)
model is a supervision strategy involving the use
of community volunteers to provide support to an
individual sex offender. COSA assists offenders in
garnering community resources while holding them
accountable to their self-monitoring plan, typically
following completion of legal supervision. The
limited research to date has demonstrated that COSA
participation is effective in reducing sexual recidivism
(Wilson, Cortoni, & McWhinnie, 2009; Wilson, Picheca,
& Prinzo, 2005).
The use of polygraph assessment with sexual offenders
is a somewhat more controversial management strategy
than the others described thus far. Three different
types of polygraphs are used with sexual offenders: a
specic-incident exam that focuses on the sexual offense
conviction or other specic offenses or behaviors, a
sexual-history exam that explores the offender’s history
of sexual offending behavior, and a maintenance exam
that reviews the offender’s compliance with supervision
and treatment conditions.
Results of multiple research studies across a variety
of jurisdictions indicate that the use of polygraph
with sexual offenders leads to additional disclosures.
Reported increases in offender disclosure based on
polygraph include the number of victims, offenses,
and offense categories (Ahlmeyer et al., 2000; English
et al., 2000; Heil, Ahlmeyer, & Simons, 2003; Hindman
& Peters, 2001); high-risk behaviors (Buschman et al.,
2010; Grubin et al., 2004); and age of onset, duration of
offending, and frequency (English et al., 2003). However,
in a study conducted by McGrath and colleagues (2007),
no signicant differences in sexual recidivism between
polygraphed and nonpolygraphed sex offenders were
Electronic Monitoring, Including GPS
Another recent trend in sex offender management and
supervision has been the use of GPS to monitor sex
offenders. GPS is an updated, more technologically
advanced form of the electronic monitoring techniques
used with criminal offenders in the past. Research has
been mixed on the use of GPS with general criminal
offenders, with one systematic review showing no
signicant reduction in criminal recidivism for offenders
subject to electronic monitoring techniques (Aos,
Miller, & Drake, 2006), while another study indicated
that criminal offenders on electronic monitoring had
Adult Sex Offender Management
lower levels of criminal recidivism (Padgett, Bales, &
Blomberg, 2006).
In studies on the use of GPS with sexual offenders,
research studies have demonstrated no signicant
reductions in sexual recidivism for those on electronic
monitoring (Bonta, Wallace-Capretta, & Rooney, 2000;
Gies et al., 2012; TBPP, 2007; Turner et al., 2007), or in the
rate of violent crime and rape in jurisdictions utilizing
this strategy (Button, DeMichele, & Payne, 2009).
Sexual Offender Civil Commitment
Sexual offender civil commitment (SOCC) is predicated
on the belief that some offenders will be at continued
high risk (in some cases termed “more likely than
not”) to commit a new sexual offense if they are not
preventively detained and offered treatment designed
to lower their risk for recidivism. To be subject to civil
commitment, most SOCC statutes require the state to
demonstrate that a potential candidate for this measure
has (1) a history of engaging in criminal sexual behavior
and (2) a “mental abnormality” that, without treatment,
would preclude him or her from being able to manage
his or her criminal sexual propensities in the community.
At present, very few civil commitment programs
have released sufcient numbers of offenders to allow
researchers to study the impact of civil commitment
in a meaningful way. Across the 16 SOCC programs
reporting data to the annual survey of the Sexual
Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network
(Jackson, Travia, & Schneider, 2010), the average number
of releases per program was less than 10. One study
that provides some insight into the impact of civil
commitment on post-release offending examined the
reoffense rates of 135 “almost SVPs”
(persons who were
referred for SOCC, but petitions were not led with the
court) in Washington State (Milloy, 2007). With a uniform
followup period of 6 years, 23 percent were convicted of
new felony sexual offenses—a rate considerably higher
than that found in “routine” samples of sexual offenders.
Sex Offender Registration and
Sex Offender Registration and Notication (SORN)
programs have been implemented to deter offenders
from reoffending, give law enforcement an investigative
tool, and increase public protection (CSOM, 1999).
Research to date has been mixed in terms of the impact
of SORN on the rates of sex crimes in an implementing
jurisdiction, with several studies showing no change in
the rate based on SORN (Holmes, 2009; Walker et al.,
2006) while other studies have demonstrated a decrease
in the rate (Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyopadhyay,
Armstrong, & Sinha, 2010; Prescott & Rockoff, 2008).
In addition, SORN was studied for its impact on the
rates of sexual recidivism for registered sex offenders,
with the majority of studies demonstrating no impact
(Adkins, Huff, & Stageberg, 2000; Freeman, 2012;
Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyopadhyay, Sinha, &
Armstrong, 2010; Sandler, Freeman, & Socia, 2008;
Schram & Milloy, 1995; Zevitz, 2006; Zgoba & Bachar,
2009; Zgoba et al., 2008). However, two studies did show
a signicant decrease in sexual recidivism for registered
sex offenders (Duwe & Donnay, 2008; WSIPP, 2005).
State-level surveys of community members regarding
SORN found that the public was aware of and
supported SORN (Anderson & Sample, 2008; Lieb
& Nunlist, 2008); thought it was fair (Brannon et al.,
2007); believed that it provides safety for their family
(Anderson & Sample, 2008; Lieb & Nunlist, 2008; Zevitz
& Farkas, 2000); thought it makes sex offenders follow
the law (Phillips, 1998, as cited in CSOM, 2001; Lieb &
Nunlist, 2008; Brannon et al., 2007); see the benets of
SORN and learning about sex offenders through SORN
(Phillips, 1998, as cited in CSOM, 2001; Lieb & Nunlist,
2008); took preventive measures (38 percent) based on
SORN information (Anderson & Sample, 2008); reported
suspicious behavior of offenders (3 percent) (Lieb &
Nunlist, 2008); and accessed the registry (31 percent)—
but those who did were more likely to be female, to
be afuent, and to have children (Sample, Evans, &
Anderson, 2011).
In a review of eight individual surveys on SORN’s
impact on sexual offenders subject to it, Lasher and
McGrath (2012) found that 8 percent of sex offenders
reported physical assault or injury, 14 percent reported
property damage, 20 percent reported being threatened
or harassed, 30 percent reported job loss, 19 percent
reported loss of housing, 16 percent reported a family
member or roommate being harassed or assaulted,
and 40 to 60 percent reported negative psychological
Residence Restrictions
Sex offender residence restrictions that limit where
convicted sex offenders may legally live have become
more popular across the country. These restrictions
typically prevent sex offenders from living within 1,000
to 2,500 feet of schools, daycare centers, and other places
where children congregate. Research has demonstrated
that residence restrictions do not decrease (Colorado
Department of Public Safety, 2004; Nobles, Levenson,
& Youstin, 2012; Socia, 2012; Zandbergen, Levenson, &
Hart, 2010) and are not a deterrent for (Duwe, Donnay,
& Tewksbury, 2008) sexual recidivism. In addition,
research has shown no signicant decreases in sex
crime rates following the implementation of residence
restrictions (Blood, Watson, & Stageberg, 2008).
In terms of the impact on sex offenders of residence
restrictions, research indicates that many sexual
offenders have had to move or would have to move
due to the implementation of residence restriction
laws (Barnes et al., 2009; Chajewski & Mercado, 2008;
Levenson & Cotter, 2005; Tewksbury & Zgoba, 2010)
despite having limited housing options, particularly in
urban areas (Barnes et al., 2009; Chajewski & Mercado,
2008; Levenson, 2008). This combination led to a report
of increased homelessness (Levenson, 2008), loss of
family support, and nancial hardship (Levenson &
Cotter, 2005).
Research Limitations and
Future Needs
The research on sex offender management has a number
of limitations. These include a small number of studies
on a given strategy, short followup periods, small
sample sizes, the use of different recidivism measures
(making cross-study comparisons challenging), little
information about the specic elements of the programs
that are found to be successful, the inability to identify if
the strategy being studied is what leads to the result or
not, generalizability problems with certain geographic-
specic studies, and problems with the scientic rigor
of some of the studies including lack of comparison
groups. Finally, general issues related to underreporting
of sex crimes leads to the problem typically seen in sex
offender management research; that is, a low base rate
for sexual recidivism, which limits the ability to achieve
signicant differences between the intervention and
comparison groups.
Regarding survey research, limitations include small
response rates and sample sizes, leading to possible
self-selection bias. In addition, the answers provided
by certain responders, including sex offenders, may be
subject to distortion because offenders may try to give
a socially desirable response or portray themselves in a
sympathetic light.
In terms of future research directions, it is recommended
that research using rigorous scientic methods be
encouraged and supported. Comparison studies
with large sample sizes and longer followup periods
should be conducted. Finally, it would be benecial
for future research to not only identify the effect of the
intervention, but also identify the program components
that appear to be most benecial and the mechanisms by
which successful outcomes are achieved.
Conclusions and Policy
This brief has focused on the effectiveness of a number
of prominent sex offender management strategies,
including specialized supervision, COSA, polygraph,
GPS, civil commitment, SORN, and residence
restrictions. Specialized supervision, in conjunction
with rehabilitation, appears to be effective in reducing
recidivism for sexual offenders. However, the use of
specialized supervision in the absence of rehabilitation
is not supported by research. The few studies of COSA
that have been undertaken thus far have produced
encouraging ndings, but far more research employing
larger samples of offenders and more rigorous designs
capable of isolating COSA effects are needed. Research
related to the use of polygraph assessment is somewhat
less denitive. Therefore, the polygraph, if used, should
only be used in conjunction with a comprehensive
supervision and treatment approach.
In terms of SORN, research to date has exhibited mixed
results on sex offender crime rates and recidivism.
Studies have not adequately controlled for outside
factors that might serve as an alternative explanation
for the observed study outcomes. Future, more rigorous
research on the effects of SORN is needed. Despite
these limitations, there is broad public and policymaker
support for SORN, and a perceived public safety benet
among these groups. Finally, the evidence is fairly clear
that residence restrictions are not effective. In fact, the
research suggests that residence restrictions may actually
increase offender risk by undermining offender stability
and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work,
and family support. There is nothing to suggest this
policy should be used at this time.
Adult Sex Offender Management
Overall, sex offender management policies are often
implemented on a one-size-ts-all basis for all sexual
offenders. It must be stressed that all of the above-
noted policies that show a positive impact should be
implemented in a targeted rather than one-size-ts-all
fashion commensurate with offender risk and need.
Finally, it is recommended that sex offender management
policymakers strive to use empirically supported
strategies. Granted, there are times when new strategies
are identied in the absence of research and need to
be tested for effectiveness, as innovation in criminal
justice practice (including sex offender management) is
important. Given this contingency, it is recommended
that future implemented policies should be evidence-
generating so that empirical study can occur.
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The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of
2006 authorized the establishment of the Sex Offender
Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and
Tracking (SMART) Office within OJP. SMART is responsible
for assisting with implementation of the Sex Offender
Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), and also for
providing assistance to criminal justice professionals across
the entire spectrum of sex offender management activities
needed to ensure public safety.
This research brief was produced by the National Criminal
Justice Association under grant number 2010-DB-BX-K086,
awarded by the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing,
Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking
(SMART), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department
of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or
recommendations expressed in this research brief are those
of the author(s) and contributors and do not necessarily
represent the official position or policies of the SMART
Office or the U.S. Department of Justice.