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Public Opinion and the Criminal Justice System: Building Support for Sex Offender Management Programs

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2000
8 pages

This brief reviews the experiences of jurisdictions that have incorporated public opinion into their response to sex offenders, as well as lessons learned from jurisdictions that have used public opinion to influence other criminal justice system policies and practices.


The paper considers why the public's perspective is important; how leadership in different States has benefited from studies of public opinion about crime and criminal justice issues; and why it is essential that the criminal justice system view the public as a partner rather than an adversary or simply a group of consumers. The paper concludes that favorable public opinion is critical to the development and continuance of community supervision and treatment programs for convicted sex offenders. Sex offender management programs that overlook the importance of public sentiment about their work could face dire consequences. These programs may avoid short-term public scrutiny or criticism if they develop policies about which experts have reached consensus. In the long-term, however, a disenchanted, uninformed, and/or uninvolved public that believes more should be done to protect the community from sex offenders may call for swift systematic changes (e.g., demand policies be altered, funding be cut, or key personnel be dismissed), which ultimately many not serve the public interest. This paper outlines some circumstances under which citizens and community leaders may be more willing to support community supervision and treatment initiatives for convicted sex offenders. A list of 6 resources

Date Published: April 1, 2000