skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 227971 Find in a Library
Title: Fear and Loathing in Public Policy: Ethical Issues in Laws for Sex Offenders
Journal: Aggression and Violent Behavior  Volume:14  Issue:4  Dated:July/August 2009  Pages:264-272
Author(s): James Vess
Date Published: July 2009
Page Count: 9
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: Netherlands
Annotation: This paper critically assesses the ethical implications of several laws implemented in recent years to address sexual offending, namely, civil commitment, extended supervision, and community notification.
Abstract: The author argues that mental health professionals involved in the implementation of these laws are faced with ethical concerns that distinguish this area of forensic practice from other clinical roles. The ethical dilemma is created by the overriding commitment of the state to institute policies that promote community protection, without regard to the rights and interests of sex offenders. The most disturbing characteristic of current sex offender laws is their provision for sanctions against offenders based on estimates of their risk for future offending rather than punishment for past behavior. This paper advises that associated roles of mental health professionals should be based in a specific model for human rights. The ethical mental health professional should not participate in legal proceedings that require risk assessments as the basis for the deprivation of offenders’ human rights, since risk-assessment methods are not reliable. Those who do participate in such proceedings should make clear that there are gaps in our current knowledge and error rates in our current procedures. It is an ethical responsibility to make these limitations as clear as possible in reports to the court. Further, the role of the risk assessor and the boundaries involved in the assessment process must be made explicitly clear to the offender, even though this may result in more guarded disclosure in the assessment process. It should be the offender’s right to make an informed decision about what he/she discloses, being fully aware of the likely consequences from the use of this information in a risk-assessment report. 38 references
Main Term(s): Corrections policies
Index Term(s): Civil commitment; Forensic psychology; Human rights; Human rights violations; Professional conduct and ethics; Psychologists role in corrections; Psychologists role in criminal justice; Risk management; Sex Offender Registration; Sex offender treatment; Sex offenders; Threat assessment
Note: For other articles in this issue see NCJ 227966-70.
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.