A fascinating recent episode of Freakonomics Radio covers in depth the economics of sex offenses, sex offender registries, and the special restrictions placed on people convicted of sex offenses. One commentator calculates how much sex offenses cost their victims — in both out-of-pocket expenses and based on jury awards for psychological damages — but most of the show discusses the staggering costs to the offenders themselves. When you are convicted of a sex offense, you are forced to pay for years of therapy (whether you need it or not), polygraph tests, and sometimes even a “personal tracker,” a contractor who checks up on where you are. At the same time, your chances of getting a job or adequate housing are destroyed by the publication of details of your crime on government websites.
One cost the show addresses, but not thoroughly enough, is the fear caused by sex offender registries. The producers point out that the fear of crime can be as harmful as crime itself. For example, they cite a study purporting to show that home prices are measurably reduced when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood. But they don’t emphasize that, at least in New York, sex offender risk evaluations done by the state routinely get it wrong, creating fear where none should exist at all. In a state where someone with pornographic pictures of his neighbor is scored as less dangerous than someone with such pictures of a stranger, the cost of the false fear stoked by the registry is almost impossible to quantify. The benefit to public safety that the fear is a by-product of? None measurable, one of the commentators found. The show is well worth a listen (click here or the link above).