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General News

Gangsters to Greyhounds: The Past, Present and Future of Offender Registration

Contrary to popular belief, offender registries are not a recent phenomenon. Offender registries are government-controlled systems that track the movements and other activities of certain persons with criminal convictions. While today they are most commonly used for sex offenders, registries have been adopted since the 1930s to regulate persons convicted of a wide variety of offenses including embezzlement, arson, and drug crimes.

Early registries were widely criticized as ineffective and overly punitive, and many were eliminated through litigation or legislative repeals. Others simply fell into disuse over the course of the 20th century. Now, there is a growing body of research that demonstrates that modern sex offender registries are similarly ineffective at reducing crime.

Sex offender registries are costly, vastly overbroad, and error-ridden. Even worse, the overwhelming stigma of public notification provisions may actually increase recidivism among offenders.2 Despite their repeated history of  ailure, enthusiasm for publicly available, internet-based registries for every offense imaginable has only grown in recent years. There have been proposals across the country to register those found guilty of animal abuse, arson, drug offenses, domestic violence, and even failure to pay child support. Existing registries are expanding and becoming increasingly punitive. Without a concerted effort to stop the tide of offender registration, we are at risk of repeating past mistakes on a much larger and more treacherous scale.

Offender registries are backwards, punitive measures that do not make communities safer. Unfortunately, those in favor of more nuanced, data-driven methods of reducing violence and sexual abuse face substantial barriers in overcoming precedent from years when registries were far narrower in scope than they are today. Advocates must work to distinguish current registries from their predecessors, educate legislators and the public on the ineffectiveness and perverse consequences of offender registries, and continue to conduct research to determine what actually works to prevent harm. While it is an uphill battle, we may take comfort that the facts are on our side. NYU Blog

View Complete Article (PDF)

Join the discussion

  1. Janice Bellucci

    This is an excellent, scholarly article which I recommend highly to others. The article ends with the following uplifting quote: Offender registries are backwards, punitive measures that do not make communities safer. Unfortunately, those in favor of more nuanced, data-driven methods of reducing violence and sexual abuse face substantial barriers in overcoming precedent from years when registries were far narrower in scope than they are today. Advocates must work to distinguish current registries from their predecessors, educate legislators and the public on the ineffectiveness and perverse consequences of offender registries, and continue to conduct research to determine what actually works to prevent harm. While it is an uphill battle, we may take comfort that the facts are on our side.

  2. Tim

    Great report. I am going to have to put this in my arsenal of words. One question, though: Whether or not the public’s perception of well being is reason enough for more draconian laws, do these types of tough on crime laws actually even make people feel safe? — “Despite a sharp decline in the United States’ violent crime rate since the mid-1990s, the majority of Americans continue to believe the nation’s crime problem is getting worse, as they have for most of the past decade. Currently, 68% say there is more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago, 17% say less, and 8% volunteer that crime is unchanged.” This I took from http://www.gallup.com/poll/150464/americans-believe-crime-worsening.aspx. You’ve really got to have an excellent propaganda campaign to keep so many people so scared.

  3. JM

    Great Article, very educational. While uplifting in part, it gave me the feeling of being on a roller coaster. Uplifting at times, and then depressing knowing what it’s going to take to change the public’s “brain washed” opinion. As it seems only a few fighting for the rights of all. This civil rights movement needs the support of all people effected if we are going to be successful. And that includes funds in order to file law suits that are unconstitutional. A dollar can go a long way if everyone contributes.

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