Introduction

Sex offenses generate considerably more concern among policymakers, criminal justice system administrators and practitioners, paroling authorities, and the public than most other types of crimes.  Just as judges experience more challenges with sentencing decisions in sex offense cases than other types of cases at the "front end" of the system, parole boards are similarly challenged with release decisions in sex offense cases closer to the "back end" of the system.  Factors that contribute to parole boards' decisionmaking concerns include the nature and dynamics of sex crimes, heightened uncertainties about recidivism and the potential impact of these crimes on victims and their families, questions about which factors signal increased risk, how to reliably differentiate higher risk from lower risk sex offenders, which parole conditions should be imposed for this special population, and significant political and public scrutiny.

The considerable scope of this issue is highlighted through the following national data:

Because sex offending is a complex and multifaceted issue, it requires a multifaceted, systemwide response in order to address victims' needs and interests and manage sex offenders effectively. Such as response requires multiple disciplines and agencies with complementary roles to collaborate in all phases of the criminal justice system, beginning when a sex crime is reported and investigated.  It takes into account the importance of specialized prosecutorial practices and sentencing considerations specific to sex crimes, and the ways in which those practices can support risk-reducing strategies, such as prison- or community-based sex offender treatment and specialized probation or parole supervision.  In addition, an effective system response recognizes the need for proactive and thorough reentry planning for incarcerated sex offenders, structured and well-informed release decisionmaking practices, carefully crafted release conditions, and measured responses to violations.  Without question, paroling authorities play a pivotal role in such a system.
In recent years, this nation has seen an unprecedented increase in sex offender-specific laws, mandates, and policies. Such strategies are largely driven by one or more of the following principal objectives:

These objectives oftentimes parallel the many interests that paroling authorities attempt to balance.  With sex offense cases, identifying the most effective decisions and strategies to meet these objectives can be somewhat daunting.

Fortunately, there exists a large body of "what works" literature in the broader criminal justice field and a growing research base specific to sex offenders and sex offender management.  This information is being used to support the development of evidence-based and research-informed policies and practices.  And when understood and applied effectively, it can better position stakeholders across agencies and disciplines, including paroling authorities, to make well-informed and measured decisions that promote public safety.


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