Book Review: The sex offender housing dilemma: Community activism, safety, and social justice

Date01 September 2021
Published date01 September 2021
DOI10.1177/0734016818823889
Subject MatterBook Reviews
conditions. Thus, Solitary is perfect for readers without prior knowledge on the subject. I would
recommend this book to corrections administrators, prison scholars, and students—both
undergraduate and graduate.
Williams, M. (2018).
The sex offender housing dilemma: Community activism, safety, and social justice. New York: New York University
Press. 288 pp. $30.00, ISBN 9781479836499.
Reviewed by: Jason Rydberg, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818823889
In The Sex Offender Housing Dilemma, Weber State University assistant professor Monica Williams
examines how communities react to official decisions to house sex offenders within their jurisdic-
tion. The societal reaction to sex offenders is often depicted by criminologists as disproportionately
harsh and shaped by subconscious emotional reaction. The public holds strong support for punitive
policy responses to this group, and scholars have warned that efforts such as registration and
community notification—which disclose the location of sex offenders to interested residents—may
facilitate vigilantism. Indeed, Williams opens The Sex Offender Hou sing Dilemma against this
backdrop, suggesting that media accounts would have one believe that visceral, violent vigilante
attacks on sex offenders are relatively common. However, the author highlights that public
responses to the presence of sex offenders in the community more often take the form of collective,
nonviolent resistance via legitimate political and legal mechanisms. Specifically, Williams focuses
their book on siting decisions—the process by which housing is identified for designated sexually
violent predators prior to their release from prison into the community.
Criminological readers may initially perceive the topic to be one of NIMBY-ism (“Not In My
Backyard”), where it is unsurprising that community opposition to sex offender housing placements
is universal. However, Williams enriches this literature by focusing their study on how different
communities resist sex offender siting decisions, and the mechanisms underlying variation in
approaches between communities. Williams asks several questions which motivate the inquiry
(p. 5), “[if] nobody wants a sex offender in their town, then why do communities in different places
pursue different strategies of opposition? Why do some engage in vigilante violence while others
mobilize politically or legally? Why don’t similar concerns about sex offenders translate into similar
strategies of opposition?”
These questions are pursued using a case study approach. Williams selects recent (at the time of
their dissertation research) sex offender siting decisions in three California communities. The com-
munities were chosen as a function of their variation in public resistance toward and official support
for the siting decision. Within each community, the author employs a variety of ethnographic
methods to generate the analysis, drawing largely on media accounts to inform the context of the
study, and in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the for m of community members, criminal
justice officials, and a key informant from a company contracted to manage the siting process.
Much of the detail on the specifics of the method are relegated to the appendix, but this includes an
enjoyable and realistic depiction of the trials and tribulations of the ethnographic research process.
The theoretical framework that is employed to structure the community responses to sex offender
siting decisions is characterized by the author as sociopolitical. It highlights the manner in which
racial and socioeconomic disadvantage in communities both influences official decisions to site
392 Criminal Justice Review 46(3)

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