Members of the American Law Institute (ALI), the most important and prestigious organization of legal scholars and prominent attorneys in the nation, will consider a proposal next week that could significantly change the nation’s sex offender laws. The most significant of those changes would be the elimination of public registries in all 50 state. The proposal also includes, but is not limited to, recommendations to abolish all public notification laws as well as most residency restrictions, internet restrictions and GPS location monitoring.
“The ALI drafts model laws that often become statutes as well as restatements of the law that are widely cited as authority in judicial opinions,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci. “ACSOL thanks ALI for focusing its attention on the plethora of laws that harm registrants and their families and that do not increase public safety.”
The outcome of the ALI members’ voting is uncertain. As of today, there appear to be at least three different groups of members — those who support the proposal, those who oppose the proposal because it goes too far and those who oppose the proposal because it doesn’t go far enough.
One organization that opposes the proposal because it goes too far is the U. S. Department of Justice. The federal agency stated in a formal comment that, if adopted, the proposal “would attempt to unravel sex offender registration and notification systems nationwide, severely limit law enforcement information-sharing capacity, weaken youth-serving organizations’ ability to conduct background checks to protect children, and strip victims’ and the public’s right to know if convicted sex offenders live, work, or go to school in their communities.” The federal agency sharply criticized the ALI proposal because the agency believes the proposal “relies on questionable and discredited research regarding the effects of sex offender registration and repeatedly draws conclusions that are unsupported by scientific evidence.”
In his reply to the U.S. Department of Justice comments, ACSOL board member as well as ALI member Ira Ellman, stated that “what is discredited by the clear and rather overwhelming consensus of the peer-reviewed scholarly work are the central factual assumptions…that are usually offered to justify the registry system.” Ellman explained that there are three kinds of studies that establish the limited value of a public registry. He also pointed out that a study commissioned by the federal SMART office concluded that residency restrictions are ineffective.
“It is important to keep in mind that the registry is not and cannot be justified or explained as punishment for the crime that triggers its imposition. Everyone required to register has already been punished,” Ellman stated. “No similar regime has ever been imposed on any other group of law-abiding former felons who have fully served the sentence for the crime they committed years earlier.”
Those who oppose the proposal include journalist William Dobbs because he believes the ALI proposal does not go far enough. Instead of restricting the registry only to law enforcement officials, Dobbs advocates the total elimination of all sex offender registries.