Racial Bias Suggested in SORNA Classifications

The classification of sex offenders based on post-release risks they post to their communities [is] subject to racial bias, according to a study published last week in the Criminal Justice Policy Review.

Black sex offenders were found to be 2.5 times likelier to be inaccurately designated as high-risk than their white counterparts by a state-sponsored risk-assessment instrument, the study found. Risk assessments that were overly weighted towards prior criminal records led to the skewed assessments, the study`s authors argued.

“About 85% of the individuals classified in the highest tier, who theoretically posed the greatest danger, did not have a conviction for a new sex offense after the five-year follow up period,” the study found, adding that 15% of “Tier 1” offenders were under-classified, meaning their threat-level was underestimated.

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) system, passed in 2006, establishing guidelines intended to protect communities from sex offenders who might pose continued threats after release. SORNA is an offense-based classification system were offenders are assigned to one of three tiers according to “dangerousness.” Tier designation is determined by prior offenses and the severity of the charge and conviction.

Over-classification leads to measures such as residency restrictions, which trigger a chain-reaction of negatives increasing the chance of recidivism.

***Originally published as The Crime Report: Sex Offender Registration Influenced by Racial Bias. August 16, 2018***

Reprinted with permission by the LISA Newsletter.

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