Those who fight for a more equitable way to keep track of sexual predators won a big victory in Michigan last week. That is a state with some 44,000 names on its sexual offenders registry.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland put his foot down and gave the Michigan legislature 60 days to rewrite its current “unconstitutional” registry statute. Last spring, Cleland set a 90-day deadline for lawmakers to rework the law, but he was ignored. This time, he’s serious.
Everyone agrees we need to keep track of career sex criminals after they are released from prison. Once they’ve been convicted of violent sex crimes, it’s possible they’ll reoffend. A public safety monitoring system makes sense.
But understand that these state registries — there is one in every state — are bloated beyond belief with many names that shouldn’t be there. Registries were mandated by federal law in the mid-’90s to keep watch over ex-convict pedophiles who sexually targeted children. Somewhere along the line, we lost our way.
Included in the registry over the years have been: a 10-year-old female caught “play-acting sex” and then branded with “criminal sexual conduct” charges; a 19-year-old boy caught with his 15-year-old girlfriend; drunks discovered urinating or streaking in public; average citizens unjustly accused of sex crimes during ugly divorces; and men duped into believing that an intimate partner was not a minor when she was. Many of these people, often caught up in a moment of normal human passion, have been forced to register as sex criminals — for the rest of their lives.
Do we really want to lump these kinds of “criminals” in with hardcore sexual predators?