Follow the money.
How often has this advice been given, and how often has the heeding of it led to the unraveling of an enigma or a crime.
The sex offender industry is both, and following the money trail reveals what lies at the heart and continues to drive this occasionally well-meaning but more often self-serving complexity of businesses, individuals, and motivations that comprise this billion dollar industry.
The industry is well diversified. It has three well-developed branches and a fourth smaller but highly important one.
The first, and certainly the lynch pin that holds it all together, is the appeal to the public for security and protection, especially for the need to protect our children. This branch encompasses, first and foremost, the public sex offender registries; it includes varied screening, monitoring, and alert products, from systems in schools and libraries to cell phone and email alerts that notify instantly if someone on the registry enters the building or moves into the neighborhood. It includes GPS bracelets and private sex offender registry, many of which run a lucrative side business as blackmail sites, charging fees to remove people who are there “accidentally” or who have been removed from the Megan’s list registries. Like any successful product, these businesses employ those who sell and market them as well as those who design, manufacture, and create them.
The second, and even larger, branch of this industry is the management of those on the registry. Many of these are applicable to registered offenders living in the community, especially when they are on parole or probation. The first and most insidious is an industry unto itself, and that is the sex offender treatment industry. The polygraph runs a close second, and the demand for the polygraph creates a need for the polygrapher, and of course polygraphs must be manufactured and marketed. Many states found the day to day management of their sex offender databases, aka registries, too onerous and demanding for them to keep up with, and a new industry was born, the sex offender database management companies, who, for a fee, take care of all the day to day work of keeping the state online registry updated.
Law enforcement has benefited as their budgets were increased to allow the hiring of new personnel to do parole compliance checks, take care of the constantly ongoing registration process, do home visits, and check on compliance with residence restrictions; in some cases entire sex offender task forces were created. Their image and public approval are enhanced with every “sex offender” they report violated for a parole infraction or arrested for failure to register.
The management of sex offenders not yet released has spawned another group ofCivil commitment “hospitals” are among the most controversial, but in the states that allow civil commitment, they thrive. Other enterprising investors saw an opportunity, not limited to those with sex offenses but certainly aided by their numbers, and private prisons--prisons for profit—are on the increase. Not to be outdone, private probation companies appeared on the scene. Those who provide telephone and medical services to the incarcerated are finding those areas lucrative.
The third major branch of the sex offender industry is the role the federal government plays. Under the Adam Walsh Act, the Federal Marshals are empowered to track and capture “absconded” registrants, and they receive large grants each year with which to accomplish their work. Additionally, most investigation of electronic/computer sex crime, such as online solicitation, teen-age “sexting,” and viewing illegal images, falls under federal jurisdiction. Federally financed sting and “bait and switch” operations are infamous. Under some circumstances, the officers involved confiscate and keep the property of those they arrest. Special task forces have been created and well funded. Some federal prisons are filled almost exclusively with those convicted of sexually related crimes.
Finally, rounding off the components of the sex offender industry are individuals who have and continue to benefit from their participation in the industry. Most notable, perhaps, is John Walsh. Certainly his involvement was thrust upon him in a way no one would ever choose, but it cannot be denied that he has built a career that has spanned two decades using his son’s murder. Other parents and some victims have to lesser degrees stayed in the limelight with activism, victim advocacy organizations— at least one of which has landed a contract as sex offender compliance monitors —and endorsement of harsher and harsher laws dealing with sex offenders. Additionally, political careers have been carved out of theexpert witnesses is proving quite profitable.
The offenses that require public registration run the gamut from the ridiculous to the heinous. Proper management of such a vast range of behaviors requires moving away from our “one size fits all” model and actually reading the research and listening to the experts in the field. Even more essential is focusing on the very real problem of child sexual abuse and those who really do sexually abuse our children and developing appropriate programs of education and prevention. But first we need to dismantle the sex offender industry; we need to remove the financial and personal incentives to keep the status quo; otherwise, nothing will change.