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During the past two decades, policy-makers, members of the media and the general public have identified sex offending as a persistent social problem. Indeed, a wealth of get-tough legislation has been enacted to enhance punishment and closely monitor convicted sex offenders. Scholars have directed their efforts at understanding sex offending and sex crime policy. Much of this research is focused on what happens to sex offenders once they return to a community (e.g., registration and community notification, residence restrictions). Few studies have examined sex offender punishment. This gap in the literature is notable, given the enhanced focus on sex offenders and how they are punished. The general public has argued that however sex offenders are currently punished, it is "not enough." Yet, few studies have explored sex offender punishment with regard to official sentencing. Thus, the goal of this dissertation is to advance sex offender scholarship by examining the sentencing of sex offenders in Florida. Using sentencing data from the Florida Department of Corrections, several questions centered on sex offender sentencing were examined. First, which punishment philosophy is driving sex offender punishment, and how have punishment approaches changed over time? Using Florida as a backdrop, how are sex offenders sentenced and how has that approach changed over time? What is the role of offender race and ethnicity in sentencing sex offenders? Finally, what is the effect of county racial and ethnic composition on sex offender sentencing? Results show that sex offender punishment practices are grounded in incapacitation and retribution frameworks. Indeed, evidence from Florida suggests that in recent years, sex offenders are more likely to go to prison and less likely to be sentenced to community sanctions, such as probation or community control. Further analyses examined the effect of offender race and ethnicity on sentencing outcomes and found that young adult and middle-aged black sex offenders are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. However, elderly white sex offenders are more likely to be incarcerated than their black counterparts. Finally, the relationship between county racial and ethnic composition and decision to incarcerate was examined. Results indicate that counties with larger populations of Black and Hispanic residents are less likely to sentence sex offenders to incarceration. Implications for theory and research are discussed.
A Dissertation submitted to the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Daniel P. Mears, Professor Directing Dissertation; Melissa Radey, University Representative; Patricia Y. Warren Hightower, Committee Member; William Bales, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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