Are Sexual Offense Laws Too Harsh? And Do They Work?

New Book by UB’s Ewing looks at the laws’ legal effectiveness

http://www.amazon.com/Justice-Perverted-Offense-Psychology-Public/dp/0199732671/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299126805&sr=1-1

Release Date: March 2, 2011

http://www.buffalo.edu/news/12329

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo Law School Professor Charles Patrick Ewing has added to his series of critically acclaimed books on some of the most unsavory but attention-grabbing aspects of the law, this time with a book questioning the legal logic and effectiveness of the country’s increasingly harsh sex offense laws.

In “Justice Perverted,” Ewing examines what he calls “radically reshaped” laws dealing with the country’s sex offenders. These laws include ordering sex offenders to register with authorities, punishment for people possessing child pornography that “dwarfs” sentences for more violent crimes, including murder, and a federal law that requires a minimum 10-year prison sentence for those using the Internet to lure minors for sex.

All these dramatic changes in sex offender laws have come about at least partly from input from the fields of psychology, psychiatry and the social sciences, according to Ewing, whose extensive writing credits include several books on forensic psychology, which is the application of psychological principles and methods to legal issues, and how they play out in the courtroom. And Ewing’s research and experience in many trials — both nationally notorious as well as obscure — conclude that enforcement and administration of many of these significantly more restrictive sex offense laws rely heavily the opinions of mental-health professionals.

Working from that conclusion, Ewing takes on an original and intellectually courageous direction of answering questions about and evaluating this established legal environment:

Are these laws supported by empirical evidence, or even by well-reasoned psychological theories? Do these laws actually work? Are mental health professionals capable of reliably determining an offender’s future behavior, and how best to manage it?

“All of these laws are purportedly designed to enhance public safety by reducing the incidence of sexual offending,” says Ewing, whose work in forensic psychology has involved using psychology to understand legal issues such as insanity, competence to stand trial and future danger. “Not only is there no evidence that these laws have had their intended effect, but there is some evidence that some of them may in fact lead to an increased threat to society.

“The economic costs of these laws are staggering and seem indefensible at a time when other valued government programs are being cut to avoid fiscal disaster,” says Ewing. “There can be little doubt that sexual offenses bring great harm to individuals and society or that we should do all that we can reasonably do to prevent them from occurring. The question is what is reasonable. It is neither reasonable nor responsible to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on laws with no proven value.”