Public Policy Alumnus Richard Wright, PhD
PhD in Public Policy, 2004
- Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Bridgewater State University (MA)
Richard Wright began his dissertation defense with four sobering facts: 1) Sexual assault causes victims, their families, offenders, and society at large pain, trauma, and significant costs including health care and law enforcement; 2) Research has found that some types of offenders may have very high recidivism rates as well as numerous victims; 3) The majority of sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement, and; 4) Research shows that the majority of sex offenders know, and have a relationship with, their victims.
As part of the 1994 Crime Bill, President Clinton signed the Jacob Wetterling Act that was later amended with the inclusion of the federal version of "Megan's Law." Its purpose was to assist law enforcement and to protect the public from convicted child molesters and violent sex offenders through the introduction of state sex offender registration and notification programs. However, no federal funds were provided for its implementation and the act only focused on a minor subset of sex offenders.
Using Massachusetts as a case study of one state's response to the federal mandate, Wright's dissertation, "Protection or Illusion? A Policy Analysis of Federal and Massachusetts Sex Offender Legislation," examined Congress' intent and state implementation in passing Wetterling and Megan's Law. He collected data from state and federal documents as well as from 36 key stakeholder interviews including former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, former MA Supreme Court Justice Herbert Wilkins, and Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.
Wright found that state and local governments spent sizable resources in implementing the Wetterling Act yet the policy's actual efficacy in reducing recidivism has not been determined. Also, current efforts to expand or increase the state and federal policies are fueling an ongoing cycle of litigation, not to mention that alternative policies have been under-explored and underfunded. Given these findings, Richard proposed several policy recommendations including the allocation or redistribution of existing Massachusetts Sex Offender Registration funds toward services for sexual assault victims and treatment for juvenile sex offenders. He also called for national and state funded research examining the costs, efficacy and impact of sex offender registration and notification laws and alternative models as well as research on the impact of the civil commitment and lifetime parole provisions of the 1999 Massachusetts legislation.
Following his defense, Richard Wright reflected on his doctoral study. "The faculty showed patience, support and tremendous encouragement during the dissertation process which I will always remember. UMass Boston's Public Policy PhD Program fundamentally changed my own thinking about government, its functions, purpose, and capacity for change. I am eternally grateful for my experience in the program."