Working with psychology professors at Lynn University, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has launched a new program to individually assess the threat posed by each of the 890 registered sex offenders in the county and monitor them accordingly.
Now, instead of just making sure an offender sleeps at the correct address, far from the nearest church or school, police officers will have more information about which ex-cons are most likely to commit another crime.
"Not all sex offenders are equally dangerous. Not everybody who's arrested for a sex crime is a pedophile," says Jill Levenson, an associate
professor of human services at Lynn University who has treated sex offenders for years and is helping to run the program.
Levenson, a national expert on sexual violence, contends that residency restrictions alone do little to protect the public, because there's "no empirical relationship between where a sex offender lives and whether or not he re-offends," she says.
Instead, researchers with this new program will look for risk factors such as how many prior crimes an offender has committed and whether his victims were strangers. That way, sheriff's deputies can focus on monitoring the people who pose the greatest threat.
"We really think that's a promising approach to public safety," Levenson says.
Each offender will also receive an individual case management plan -- including mental health services or help looking for housing or a job.
Researchers are slated to begin assessing offenders early next year. As the two-year program, funded by a $150,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice, progresses, Levenson says they'll also research its impact.
The goal is to keep criminals from attacking again. "We are expecting that our approach will reduce re-offending," she says.