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National

Abolish the sex offender registry

[thenorthernlight.org – 4/29/19]

It’s not easy to come to the defense of nonviolent sex offenders. Any lawmaker that considers reforming the excessively-punitive registry will start out on the losing side of the public’s perception. For starters, there is an erroneous assumption that the registry entirely comprises of rapists and pedophiles. On top of that, sex offender registration has become somewhat of a throwaway issue. Who cares about anyone on the registry? They did something, and that’s their punishment.

However, our inability to think critically about sex offender registration is causing undue legal and moral repercussions upon convicted people. We should care because many offenders were convicted under consensual circumstances that any reasonable society wouldn’t penalize in this way. All states have sex offender registries, as mandated by a series of federal laws in the 1990s, but each state has different opinions on what situations amount to a sex offense. Many situations do not at all fit the pathological predator theme that the public associates with the entire registry.

For example, the Department of Justice estimates that there are at least 89,000 minors on sex offender registries. Just process that for a second. Many of these offenses are nonviolent and fairly normative. Indecent exposure and sexting are some examples of teenage behavior that has landed defendents on the sex offender registry. Note the case of a 15-year-old in Pennsylvania who was charged with manufacturing and disseminating child pornography after taking explicit pictures of herself and sharing them. Or a couple of 14-year-old boys in New Jersey who pulled down their pants and sat on two 12-year-old boys. These may be stupid decisions, sure, but do they justify these kids being registered as sex offenders? Probably not.

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  1. Janice Bellucci

    ACSOL posted this well written and thoughtful editorial on the website in order to attract comments from website visitors about the elimination of the registry in the U.S. at this time. Is it possible? Should it be a goal? Or should we continue our incremental approach to improve the registry? What do you think?

    • TS

      @Janice

      In short, continue with both efforts, i.e. complete abolishing and refining until such time, with all means and methods necessary. Never give up the goal or the fight. It is possible.

      As I reread an article on The Appeal website last night in my feed about the registry concept for more than just sex violations, the thought is this concept is acceptable despite the long term damage. That’s wrong even though it may not be felt that way until more are caught up in one and feel the pain.

      Just my two cents…

    • Will Allen

      I think you’ll get some responses/opinions, lol.

      I definitely think elimination of the Registries should be the main, key goal. I’m not sure how soon or if that will be possible. Doesn’t seem as if facts are the most important part of that. Personally, I think a large majority of people need to come to the belief that supporting Registries is something that only dumb, uninformed people do.

      I see the “incremental approach” as mostly just continuing to fight off the legislators, law enforcement, etc. as they continue to try to commit new crimes. I don’t see how that part can be skipped but I do feel that as people are fighting that all the time, that they should always and continually state that the Registries as a whole are trash and should be destroyed.

      As usual, I think branding and setting opinions is very key. We could create a statement/motto/branding that every single person and organization could include on every piece of correspondence, comment, whatever, and it would surely come to be recognized. I think the country needs to see that there are millions of people that they are attacking and that they have a war on their hands that has real effects in actual reality. To be clear, I’m talking about including the statement/motto/branding on every single statement, e.g. if a person posts a 1 sentence comment on a newspaper website, they would put the statement/motto/branding at the end. It would be something that ACSOL, RSOL, W.A.R., individuals, and whomever else could just use. Just off the top of my head, with little thought, it could be something like:

      Registries are not needed or significantly beneficial. Worse, they are counterproductive, dangerous to everyone, and un-American. Registries must be eliminated.

      But seems like could use some sort of “tag” at the beginning of it so that people come to recognize it not just as some sentences, but the same thing every time.

      • AJ

        @Will Allen:
        “Doesn’t seem as if facts are the most important part of that.”
        —–
        Your words reminded me of a quote I read yesterday regarding India’s army claiming it found Yeti footprints in the Himalayas. A skeptical scientist opined, “[y]ou can’t kill a legend [or myth] with anything as mundane as facts” (alterations added). Bingo! This is the exactly with which we’re dealing: myth and legend vs. mundane facts.

        • Will Allen

          I’ve been arguing with various people just about every day for a few weeks now and I just continue to be shocked at how they seem to have no concern at all for facts or reality. Most of them do not seem very bright at all though. I do believe that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely it is that they will support Registries.

          The people I’ve been arguing with say they want to know who has committed a $EX crime. They cannot, in any way, explain how that is useful for them to know or how it helps them. Doesn’t matter. They want to know. They cannot explain how the Registries do anything useful. I THINK that they understand at least partially how the Registries can and will harm them and everyone else, but they don’t care. I THINK they understand that Registries could cause more $EX crimes than if they didn’t exist. They don’t care. They want to know who the people are. They want to be able to talk about the people and call them names. That is what they want. They literally do not seem to care about any other type of crime if it did not involve $EX. It makes no sense and I don’t think they care.

          The crazy thing about the Registries and big government promoting them is that the Registries are literally a list of people who are not likely to commit a $EX crime. How is that for funny? People want to consult a list of people who are not likely to commit a crime, supposedly using the excuse of public safety and protecting children. And of course we have to note that the people on the hit list wouldn’t be committing any crime regardless if there was a list or not. I have heard that individuals on the hit list are perhaps around 4 times more likely to commit a $EX crime than a person in the general population (roughly, given years since offense and all that). But 4 times nearly nothing is still nearly nothing. And for certain, over 95% of the people listed won’t be doing anything. How’s that for a worthless list of bad guys? It’s insane.

    • Sophie

      My husband and I agree that the registry is totally absurd and destroys more that helps but the population is ignorant and ignorance is dangerous. To educate people, it is great but only intelligent and open-minded people will be receptive.
      The registry just became a big garbage bag, people do not even know what is really in that “bag”.
      We do feel for the father of Megan who lost his daughter and it is terrible but to punish everybody for it will not make her living again and will punish so many innocent people often for life. Their lives, career, freedom… are gone.
      Without speaking that the Law Enforcement does its best to spread rumor and basically will mass hysteria in the population.

    • Chris f

      If there is no way to do both at once, then I think the time is finally right to attack the entire scheme.

      Based on SCOTUS quotes from cases over the last few year’s, such as Packingham’s “troubling fact” that registration and restrictions contunue after the period of judicially decided supervision ends, now is the time to strike.

      As I have said many times, the scope of Constitional violations is unprecedented and reqires a new approach. It can’t be just the same old re-hash of ex post facto or even cruel and unusual punishment challenges. We need the rarely used challenge against Separation of Powers combined with substantive and procedural due process and equal protection. There must be a way to show that when multiple constitional rights are infringed on to any extent, the cumulative effect must dictate the scrutiny of the entire scheme.

      I believe it also could be attacked as a facial challenge instead of the easier “as applied” type. Nobody should be assigned to a public registry by legislature and for a duration determined by legislature when that is the courts responsibility on an individual basis. I just don’t understand how we have so much precident stating that even a judge can’t exceed what has to be a fair sentence and restrictioms tailored to the individual and circumstances but yet the legislature can do anything it likes and anytime it likes. There is no “finality” to the sentence which is another argument with lots of precident.

    • Dustin

      @ Janice:

      To start, thank you for your efforts and actions. I anticipate this will be a long post, and please don’t misconstrue it as a swipe against all you have accomplished and your continuing efforts in this ridiculously uphill climb.

      The registry must be abolished. Despite public appearance and perception, it has not accomplished one single thing beyond the stigmatization, harassment, and (legalized) discrimination of residents and their family members. It was flawed from its inception, beginning with Paul Kramer’s claim that Megan Kanka would be alive today had that law been in effect, belied by the FACT – not supposition – that everyone in that neighborhood, to include the Kankas, were aware that a prior sex offender lived at that house.

      Numerous reforms and incremental approaches have been done over the years, usually intending to either reduce the number of registrants or make it more “efficient” (as though it accomplishes anything anyway). All have failed, and failed dramatically. DAs and courts continually circumvent the intent of all so-called reforms. The registry continues to bloat every year, adding more costs to its maintenance and updating, and still accomplishes absolutely nothing.

      Tiering is pointless. First, agencies responsible for tiering often get it wrong, basing their assessments on previous charges, court and “treatment” records, and so on. Conspicuously absent is an assessment of the individual himself, his current behavior and activity, input from those that know him best, and the deterrent effect of arrest and prison (likely the reason why 97+ percent of registrants never offend again). Second, registry followers and most law enforcement consider the term “sex offender” synonymous with “predator” regardless of tier, as shown in the states that removed tier 1 from their public registries and the efforts of some citizens fighting to have them available again. Not surprisingly, they want to know who those offenders are, but couldn’t care less about the circumstances of why they’re registered to begin with.

      No neighborhood is safer simply because people know who has been convicted of certain crimes, particularly since said convicts are statistically among the least likely to repeat them. The rate of sex crime has not decreased from the pre-public registry days, and nearly all registrant recidivism is for crime created by or based on the registry itself. Further, claims that safety is enhanced simply by having this information is not supported by anything, and there is not one single government/law enforcement official, registry or victim advocate, or “expert” who can or will advise what specifically a person is to do with this information. What was probably intended to say “Don’t be alone with this guy” has morphed into inspiration for vigilantes despite disclaimers that those who accost registrants may (not will, more often than not) be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, though such prosecutions are often considerably lighter than similar ones where the victims are not registrants.

      LE only registries are equally useless. There’s nothing on it not available in other databases routinely accessed through normal police work. The ONLY crime the registry has any role in at all is failure to update. It has never led to the identification or arrest of one single suspect of any other crime because the suspect’s status as a registrant is never known until after arrest or identification. LE claims that the registry is necessary or a “good tool” are made solely because federal and state grants are based on the number of registrants, and most of such funds are often appropriated elsewhere in the agency.

      I applaud your opposition to new registry laws as they are proposed, and hope such opposition continues and grows. But regarding the registry itself, simply reforming it has no value whatsoever because all reforms by design ultimately have no overall effect. I would argue the efforts are better spent on abolishing the registry en totem. Incremental success are always negated shortly after they’re won, and resistance to abolishment is not much more prevalent than that against incremental efforts. While it may be a harder fight politically, it is perfectly winnable as a matter of law and constitutionality.

  2. e

    A very educated man, Barack Obama, signed into law an absurd bill that hurt millions. A educated governor, Jerry Brown, won’t even consider pardons for sex offenders.
    If these people, with the power and position in office to make a definite change won’t do it, then You mine as well think peeing in the wind won’t get you wet, because you are truly dreamin’ to believe the registry will get anything but worse. Even a boulder rolling down hill will slow down a time or two. Just as the registry will make a few detours to allow the perception that it is easing up. But eventually it will crush you.

  3. Notorious D.I.K. / Kennerly

    This is a really terrible piece that wants to further cleave registrants into camps for the purpose of attaining relief for some while denigrating and continuing to marginalize others.

    It is an appeal to ignorance, i.e. ignorance of what constitutes “sexual violence” and the nature of “pedophilia.”

    So no, I’m not on-board with this statement.

    • CR

      I had similar thoughts when I read it yesterday, but didn’t have time to reply.

      The author started off by dividing “sex offenders” into nonviolent and violent categories, implying that the latter is comprised of “rapists and pedophiles”, and only the former is worthy of legislative efforts toward registry reform.

      He did not explain or question the meaning of “violent offender”. Is the reader to simply accept the state’s designation of a violent offender or a violent criminal act? Such normally derives from the statutory language used to define a criminal act, not on a determination based on the facts of a case.

      Even though he argued for elimination of the entire registry, he explained that the reason it couldn’t be eliminated only for “the less serious offenses” was because “there is no legal pathway to accomplish that”. One is left with the clear impression that he would support removing only certain offenders from the registry were such a “legal pathway” to exist.

      He did make a number of true observations about the registry and its impact on people. He also recognized it correctly as “punishment”.

      Could have been better written. Personally, I can’t get behind any effort that relies on throwing certain people under the bus in order to save others.

      • Notorious D.I.K. / Kennerly

        CR, my thoughts precisely! I’m afraid that this is shaping up to be the new norm in our community, i.e. throwing the “bad” ones under the bus while knowing remarkably little about whether they are actually bad or not. This is why I also have very serious skepticism about the assurances that the “relieved” will continue to come to the aid of the “unrelieved” in a dynamic and gradualist legal process. If they lack the energy and inclination to challenge media stereotypes about “pedophiles” and “sexual violence” before attaining relief for themselves then I am not terribly optimistic that they will stick around for the more difficult challenges which follow.

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