Book Review: Complicated lives: Girls, parents, drugs, and juvenile justice

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
offenders in those communities, the capacity of the community to resist the effort, and the mechan-
isms by which they do so. For instance, when the relatively privileged community of Ranchito (a
pseudonym) was chosen as a site for a sex offender being released from prison, the presence of a
local planning group reflected locals’ belief that they were entitled to govern themselves and was
subsequently mobilized as an official community opposition to the siting decision. According to
Williams, this capacity for political response made Ranchito a “difficult” sex offender placement.
On the other hand, the relatively disadvantaged populace of East City had been alienated from their
local political and law enforcement institutions, which structured the mechanisms by which the
community resisted the proposed sex offender placement. A tenuous relationship with local law
enforcement muted the community’s support for litigation to oppose the placement. Williams spends
the middle chapters of the book giving an in-depth description of the siting decision and opposition
efforts, grounded in this framework.
In describingthe intricacies of each community’scontext and the process by which theyresisted (or
attempted to resist) sex offender housing placements, Williams also serves to highlight a potential
weaknessto their contribution. Considerthe variation observedby the author (in just three communities
in a single state) in light of the variation in state and local sex offender legislation across the United
States, and the “street-level bureaucracy” that is employed as local officials make sense of and enact
those policies in practice. Speaking as a person reading this book, there was a sense that Williams’s
sociopolitical frameworkmay fit for variouscommunities, but thenature and structureof the community
responsemay look very differentif one were to consider a differentset of localities,perhaps even within
California. Being fair to Williams, the book can only take on so much of a scope, and it will be the
responsibility of future researchto consider how well their frameworkholds in other contexts.
Ultimately, The Sex Offender Housing Dilemma is a book about understanding collective action,
and this is reflected in Williams’s recommendations about sex offender housing placements. Their
recommendations are focused on rectifying the lack of inclusion that community members perceive
in siting decisions for released sex offenders. Such recommendations are a fresh perspective on
critiques of sex offender policy, which are more often focused on the deleterious consequences
policies such as residence restrictions have on the sex offenders themselves. Just as criminological
research has highlighted that there are widely held (and incorrect) stereotypes concerning the nature
and behavior of those convicted of sexual offenses, Williams’s work suggests that the reality
pertaining to community responses to sex offenders cannot be described monolithically as
“NIMBY-fueled vigilantism” (p. 25). Instead, community responses to sex offenders are multi-
faceted and worthy of additional empirical consideration. The book is aimed toward a scholarly
audience. I believe that it would be a worthwhile read for a graduate course in societal reactions to
deviance, the politics of criminal justice, or sex offender policy.
Lopez, V. (2017).
Complicated lives: Girls, parents, drugs, and juvenile justice. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers. 240 pp. $34.95,
ISBN 978-0-8135-8654-0.
Reviewed by: Kayla Martensen, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818824145
Complicated Lives is an interdisciplinary text that offers several major contributions to multiple
fields using mixed methods, multilevel analysis, and multiple theoretical frameworks. Lopez, a
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