In an effort to combat sexual violence, many policies have been created by federal and state legislatures in the past twenty years. The Wetterling Act of 1994 mandated all states to develop sex offender registries and required addresses to be maintained for ten years. In the following years of 1996, Megan’s Law and the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act were passed which required community notification and development of a nationwide registry. While these laws outline some requirements, much of the specifics were left to states to decide until the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was enacted in 2006. Specifically, Title 1 established the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) which provided a more uniform and comprehensive list of requirements. One of the key provisions of SORNA is based on a three-tiered conviction system (AWA, 2006; Department of Justice, 2008).

There is a slight variation among states in terms of being fully compliant with SORNA. Much of the variation from a state to state level surrounds the period of time for registries, the utilization of risk assessments, and petition for registration releases. Utah is in partial compliance with SORNA with seventeen states being in full compliance. While SORNA has a three-tiered system, Utah is split between a ten year and lifetime period with opportunities for release petitions. Utah’s two-tiered system is based on the most common approach of conviction, not risk. The risk approach does not require all, who may have been convicted of a registerable offense, to register. Whether registries are based on the conviction or risk approach, the aim of these registration laws are two-folds. First is to assist law enforcement in monitoring of registered individuals and investigating new allegations. The second aim is to provide community notification of information to address public safety concerns. As such, all fifty states have registry websites that are publicly accessible to their respective communities.

Utah Registration Process

As mentioned, Utah’s two-tiered registry system is based on conviction. The first tier equates to a ten-year registry where eligible crimes include kidnapping, voyeurism, unlawful sexual activity with a minor, unlawful sexual conduct with a 16 or 17 year old, forcible sexual abuse, incest, four convictions of lewdness, four convictions for sexual battery, lwedness involving a child, aggravated human trafficking, custodial relations if victim was under 18 years old, sexual exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and sexual abuse of a minor (Utah Code Ann. §77-27-21.5).

The second tier constitutes a lifetime registry where eligible crimes include child kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, enticing a minor over the internet, rape, rape of a child, object rape, object rape of a child, forcible sodomy, sodomy on a child, sexual abuse of a child, aggravated sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a minor, and aggravated exploitation of prostitution (Utah Code Ann. §77-41-106).

In addition to the registry time period requirements, there are certain restrictions and requirements for registrants. For monitoring purposes, individuals have to register within three business days of every change of primary residence, any secondary residence, place of employment, vehicle information, or educational information. Further, there are area restrictions which include daycares, preschools, public swimming pools, public parks/playgrounds, and public/private primary and secondary schools (Utah Code Ann. §77-27-21.7).


In addition to bearing the requirements as outlined above, there are individual, familial, and societal consequences that should be noted. There is a growing body of research that is not only focusing on the effectiveness of sex offendering registry laws but the collateral consequences as well (Zevitz & Farkas, 2000; Tewksbury, 2004; Levenson and Cotter, 2005; Mercado, Alvarez, & Levenson, 2008; Frenzel, Bowen, Spraitz, Bowers, & Phaneuf, 2014).

Because of the public notification aspect of registries, individuals are faced with community responses such as stigmatization, harassment, assault, and reminders of the crime they have committed (Tewksbury, 2004; Frenzel, Bowen, Spraitz, Bowers, & Phaneuf, 2014; Mancini, 2014; Cubellis, Walfield, & Harris, 2018). These type of responses may lead to financial losses through limited job opportunities, inability to fulfill parental duties, and maintaining healthy relationships (Zevitz & Farkas, 2000; Tewksbury, 2004; Levenson & Cotter, 2005; Mercado, Alvarez, & Levenson, 2008; Frenzel, Bowen, Spraitz, Bowers, & Phaneuf, 2014). Going beyond an individual level, research has shown the negative effects on families and friends of registered sex offenders. Children, spouses, friends and even neighbors of sex offenders may experience similar harassment, stigmatization, and avoidance from others as a result of their close one being on a registry (Mercado, Alvarez, & Levenson, 2008; Frenzel, Bowen, Spraitz, Bowers, & Phaneuf, 2014).

From a societal perspective, there are consequences to consider that may be actually antithetical to the purpose of SORNA and registry laws. Some scholars have pointed out in their research, that the unintended consequences as described above, create barriers to successful community reintegration and may increase the risk of reoffending sexually (Levenson & Cotter, 2005; Lees & Tewksbury, 2006; Zevitz, 2006; Levenson & D’Amora, 2007; Levenson, D’Amora, & Hern, 2007; Mercado, Alvarez, & Levenson, 2008; Wilson, 2009; Jennings, Zgoba, & Tewksbury, 2012). Further, there are monetary costs to maintaining registries of sex offenders. The Justice Policy Institute estimated the cost of implementing SORNA in Utah for the first year was $4,290,617.

Putting aside the potential collateral consequence, there is a genuine concern for individuals to repeat sexual offenses, thus literature has focused on supporting the aims of registration laws by evaluating reoffense rates to prevent future sexual violence. Research has shown that for individuals who have been previously incarcerated, the rate of recidivism is lower than one would expect (Meloy, 2005; Freeman & Sandler, 2010). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2003) reported a 5.3 percent reoffense rate in a three-year follow up period on a sample comprised of over 9,000 sex offenders in the United States. In a more recent local study examining new crimes among Utah’s parolee population, the authors found less than 2 percent of individuals being reconvicted of a sex-related crime, using an average follow-up time of roughly 1 year. It is however important to note that a large share of individuals in Utah are returned to prison on one or more technical violations, which poses challenges in understanding true re-conviction rates absent these returns. The authors emphasized the need to evaluate the cost of these very serious crimes and the taxpayer cost of imprisonment and other forgone economic opportunities in order to make sound policy decisions (Utah Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice, 2019).

Similar to other crimes, recidivism rates for sexual offenses may differ depending on certain risk factors. The literature indicates male offenders who are more likely to sexually reoffend are typically younger in age, have prior sex crimes, prior supervision violations, a preference for male child victims, and a history of offending strangers (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998; Harris & Hanson; Freeman & Sandler, 2008; Freeman & Sandler, 2010). Utilizing information produced from these studies looking at risk factors in sex crimes, many states have adopted the risk approach by developing risk assessments to classify the level and extent of registration and public notification.

Compared to the literature on risk assessments, less is known on the effectiveness of the conviction based approach as stipulated in SORNA as well as in Utah’s registry law. The premise of the conviction approach is to place stricter regulations and supervision on top-tiered individuals compared to lower-tiered individuals who committed less severe crimes. Over the years, various studies have examined the factors that are related to sexual offense recidivism, and among those, there has not been a finding that links the specific conviction of an individual to be predictive of the likelihood of reoffense (Freeman & Sandler, 2010).

The dearth of literature on the effectiveness of the conviction approach has led stakeholders to reexamine Utah’s sex offender registry laws. And the question that still remains is how to keep the public safe while preventing sex crimes. While the risk approach may be one answer, it is critical to keep apprise of what works and what doesn’t as it relates to the validity of sex offender risk assessments.

Validity of Risk Assessments

Methods of assessing sex offender risk can generally be categorized on a spectrum, ranging from unstructured clinical judgment to pure actuarial risk assessments.1. Research has shown that empirically derived actuarial approaches compared to professional judgment were more accurate in assessing sexual and violent recidivism (Barbaree, Seto, Langton, & Peacock, 2001; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009; Smid, Kamphuis, Wever, & Van Beek, 2014).

A review of the literature indicates variability across all actuarial risk assessments with no indicator of a single best assessment tool (Doren, 2002; Hanson, 2009, 2011; Tully, Chou, & Browne, 2013). Instead, scholars have encouraged the practice of quality training in administration of assessment tools and the utilization of more than one instrument (Doren, 2002; Hanson, 2009, 2011; Tully, Chou, & Browne, 2013; Lanterman, Boyle, & Ragusa-Salerno, 2014).

Following are specific risk assessments outlined by Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2009) for assessing the likelihood of of sexual reoffense:

  • Static-99 (Hanson & Thornton, 2000)
  • Static-2002 (Hanson, Helmus, & Thornton, 2010)
  • MnSOST-R (Epperson et al., 2000)
  • Risk Matrix-2000 (Kingston et al., 2008)
  • SVR-20 (Boer et al., 1997)

Current Utah Assessment Practices

Though Utah’s registry is not based on risk, sex offender risk assessments are still implemented for individuals who are being treated while incarcerated or in the community. For individuals being treated in Utah’s institution and county jails, the Static-99 and Stable-2007 are utilized. The Static-99 assesses for static risk, while the Stable-2007 assesses for dynamic risk. Practitioners combine these two assessment scores to achieve an overall risk score. While individuals who are in the community and are on Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P), practitioners utilizes the SOTIPS / VASOR-2 for assessing sex offender risk. In addition, AP&P have a sex offender task force that reviews assessment tools, treatment providers and supervison practices.

Moving Forward

Are there ways moving forward that can balance public safety as well as taking into account the literature on sexual recidivism. Indeed, there are individuals who pose a great risk and danger to community safety that requires intense treatment alongside strict monitoring and registry requirements. And then there are others who present a low risk to reoffend and may be effectively monitored in the community with appropriate treatment and supervision.

As it is already current and best practice for individuals incarcerated and being supervised in the community to be assessed by two risk assessments, Utah may benefit from adopting actuarial risk assessments as a basis for registration and community notification provisions. In doing so, low risk individuals would not receive the same sanctions as high risk individuals and therefore resources can be directed towards those that are assessed as the most likely to reoffend.


Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, H.R. 4472, 109th (2006).

Barbaree, H., Seto, M., Langton, C., & Peacock, E. (2001). Evaluating the Predictive Accuracy of Six Risk Assessment Instruments for Adult Sex Offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 28(4), 490-521.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2003). Recidivism of sex offenders released from prison in 1994 (No. NCJ 198281). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Cubellis, M., Walfield, S., & Harris, A. (2018). Collateral Consequences and Effectiveness of Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Law Enforcement Perspectives. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 62(4), 1080-1106.

Department of Justice. (2008, July). Federal register: The national guidelines for the Sex Offender Registration and Notification. Washington, DC: Author.

Freeman, N. J., & Sandler, J. C. (2008). Female and Male Sex Offenders: A Comparison of Recidivism Patterns and Risk Factors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(10), 1394–1413.

Freeman, N., & Sandler, J. (2010). The Adam Walsh Act: A False Sense of Security or an Effective Public Policy Initiative? Criminal Justice Policy Review, 21(1), 31-49.

Frenzel, E. D., Bowen, K. N., Spraitz, J. D., Bowers, J. H., & Phaneuf, S. (2014). Understanding collateral consequences of registry laws: An examination of the perceptions of sex offender registrants. Justice Policy Journal, 11(2), 1-22.

Hanson, R. K., & Bussière, M. T. (1998). Predicting relapse: A meta-analysis of sexual offender recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(2), 348-362.

Hanson, R.K. (2000). Risk Assessment. Beaverton, OR: Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

Hanson, R.K. & Morton-Bourgon, K.E. (2009). The accuracy of recidivism risk assessments for sex offenders: A meta-analysis of 118 prediction studies. Psychological Assessment, 21, 1–21.

Harris, A. J. R., & Hanson, R. K. (2004). Sex offender recidivism: A simple question. Ottawa, Ontario: Solicitor General of Canada. Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, (1994).

Jennings, W.G., Zgoba, K.M., & Tewksbury, R. (2012). A comparative longitudinal analysis of recidivism trajectories and collateral consequences for sex and non-sex offenders released since the implementation of sex offender registration and community notification. Journal of Crime & Justice, 35, 356- 364.

Justice Policy Institute. (n.d.). What will it cost states to comply with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act? Available at

Lanterman, J. L., Boyle, D. J., & Ragusa-Salerno, L. M. (2014). Sex Offender Risk Assessment, Sources of Variation, and the Implications of Misuse. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 41(7), 822–843.

Lees, M., & Tewksbury, R. (2006). Understanding policy and programmatic issues regarding sex offender registries. Corrections Today, 68(1), 54

Levenson, J.S., & Cotter, L.P. (2005). The effect of Megan’s Law on sex offender reintegration. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21, 49-66.

Levenson, J. S., & D’Amora, D. A. (2007). Social policies designed to prevent sexual violence: The emperor’s new clothes? Criminal Justice Policy Review, 18(2), 168-199.

Levenson, J. S., D’Amora, D. A., & Hern, A. (2007). Megan’s law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 25, 587-602.

Mancini, C. (2014). Examining Factors That Predict Public Concern About the Collateral Consequences of Sex Crime Policy. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 25(4), 450-475.

Meloy, M. L. (2005). The Sex Offender Next Door: An Analysis of Recidivism, Risk Factors, and Deterrence of Sex Offenders on Probation. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 16(2), 211–236.

Mercado, C., Alvarez, S., & Levenson, J. (2008). The Impact of Specialized Sex Offender Legislation on Community Reentry. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 20(2), 188-205.

Utah Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice (2019). Predicting New Criminal Convictions while on Parole: The Role of Offense Type. Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

Smid, W., Kamphuis, J., Wever, E., & Van Beek, D. (2014). A Comparison of the Predictive Properties of Nine Sex Offender Risk Assessment Instruments. Psychological Assessment, 26(3), 691-703.

Tewksbury, R. (2004). Experiences and attitudes of registered female sex offenders. Federal Probation, 68(3), 30-33.

Tully, R., Chou, S., & Browne, K. (2013). A systematic review on the effectiveness of sex offender risk assessment tools in predicting sexual recidivism of adult male sex offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(2), 287-316.

Wilson, R. (2009). Geographic Research Suggests Offender Residency Laws May Not Work, Geography and Public Safety. Available at I.pdf.

Zevitz, R.G., & Farkas, M.A. (2000a). Sex offender community notification: Assessing the impact in Wisconsin. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

  1. See Hanson, 2000 for detailed breakdown↩︎