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The Scarlet Letter of the 21st Century

January 11, 2009 Comments off

The Adam Walsh Act: The Scarlet Letter of the Twenty-First Century
Lara Geer Farley, Washburn Law Journal

Reforming sex offender laws will not be easy. At a time when national polls indicate that Americans fear sex offenders more than terrorists, legislators will have to show they have the intelligence and courage to create a society that is safe yet still protects the human rights of everyone.

In recent years, the words “sex offender” have transformed into a loosely and frequently used term. Congress and state legislatures have enacted sex offender laws because of highly publicized, horrific crimes, particularly those committed against children. As federal and state governments introduce stricter punishments, requirements, and prohibitions for sex offenders, the offenders become branded by the negative stigma associated with their status. While many sex offenders commit heinous crimes, experts and officials question whether the strict laws imposed against all sex offenders, including non-violent offenders like Evan B., actually increase the safety of those the laws seek to protect.

This Note will argue that the most recent development in this area of law, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (AWA), contains over-inclusive sex offender registration requirements and punishments. Implementation of the AWA will undoubtedly cause problems for state governments, law enforcement, non-violent sex offenders, and citizens, both as taxpayers and intended beneficiaries of the AWA. Specifically, the AWA is an unfunded mandate that places severe and unfair registration requirements and punishments on sex offenders, and requires offenders to register without distinguishing between violent and non-violent offenders or evaluating the likelihood of recidivism.

Part II of this Note examines the development of sex offender registration requirements in the federal and state governments. It addresses the transformation from the initial freedom left with the states to determine their own standards to the recent, more expansive, and mandatory federal requirements under the AWA. Part III of this Note discusses the purpose of the sex offender requirements under the AWA and reasons why the AWA’s over-inclusiveness hinders achievement of that purpose. Part IV concludes with a call for reform of the AWA, in order to better achieve the AWA’s purpose.

IV. CONCLUSION
Over the past two decades, federal and state governments have introduced stricter punishments, requirements, and prohibitions for sex offenders. The most recent development in this area of law, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, contains over-inclusive sex offender registration requirements and punishments. Implementation of the AWA will undoubtedly cause problems for state governments, law enforcement, non-violent sex offenders, and citizens, both as taxpayers and intended beneficiaries of the AWA. If the AWA is not reformed, its requirements will drain public resources, unnecessarily deprive sex offenders of their liberty, and produce few public safety gains. The AWA’s requirements are over-inclusive. The AWA does not differentiate between violent and non-violent offenders. The AWA also does not individually evaluate the likelihood of offender recidivism. Therefore, the AWA does not allow law enforcement officials to focus on the small number of sex offenders who actually need monitoring— offenders who committed severe offenses and are likely to recidivate. Rather, under the AWA, law enforcement officials must attempt to supervise all sex offenders, a daunting task that police have neither the funds nor officers to adequately achieve. As a result, unsupervised sex offenders—both violent and non-violent—slip through the system and the dangerous offenders continue to threaten public safety. A reformed AWA could prevent tragedies like Evan B.’s from occurring. There was no need to require Evan B., a non-violent offender with little risk for recidivism, to register as a sex offender. Evan B. was a high school boy who made an innocent mistake. Unfortunately, over-inclusive sex offender registration requirements did not allow Evan B. to serve his sentence and resume his life. Rather, Evan. B.’s life headed in an ominous downward spiral—his community shunned him; he dropped out of school; he could not find employment; he moved away from his friends and family; he became depressed; and he killed himself. Lawmakers should reform the AWA to require only violent offenders who are likely to recidivate to register. Therefore, non-violent offenders unlikely to recidivate will not be branded as sex offenders—a scarlet letter that may stigmatize them for life. Furthermore, law enforcement officials will be able to focus on only dangerous offenders necessitating supervision and registration. Law enforcement officials will notify community members about violent and dangerous sex offenders that live nearby and will educate them about how to keep their children safe. If reformed, the AWA will successfully serve its purpose as a method of public safety.

Sex Offender Data

January 11, 2009 Comments off

While more information regarding statistical myths and falsehoods is posted in our “Truth over Myth” posting in this blog, we felt it was constructive to post this additional official data to once again reiterate that much of the information found online is simply not true. (most of these documents are PDF files).

U.S. Department of Justice Statistics: Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994 (latest available):

“Within 3 years following their release, 5.3% of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime.”

U.S. Department of Justice Statistics: Criminal Offender Statistics
Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime after their discharge from prison –– 5.3 % of sex offenders versus 1.3 % of non-sex offenders.

Child victimizers
* Approximately 4,300 child molesters were released from prisons in 15 States in 1994. An estimated 3.3% of these 4,300 were rearrested for another sex crime against a child within 3 years of release from prison.

State of Michigan, General Recidivism: Parole Board Statistics: 1990 through 2000:
Sex Offenders 2.46% average recidivism.

State of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction -Ohio Official Sex Offender Recidivism Data:
Recidivism rate for child -victim sex offenders (outside family) for a new sex-related crime in Ohio is 8.7%
The recidivism rate for all sex offenders for a new sex-related crime in Ohio is 8.0%

Child Victims:
Approximately
60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.

The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted Runaway and Thrownaway Children : Official Most-Recent Study Statistics from The National Criminal Justice Reference Service: “results DO NOT indicate an increase in child abductions by strangers”

The Victimization of Children and Youth: A Comprehensive National Study (University of North Carolina, University of New Hampshire):
“The great majority of sexual victimizations were perpetrated by acquaintances”

U.S. Census statistics do not record statistics related to crime.
“The Census Bureau releases some statistics on the criminal justice system in our data on government employment and finance, but none on crime, criminals, or victims.”
Any statistics you read about sex offenders from U.S. Census statistics is a blatant falsehood.

Furthermore, there is no accurate count of sex offenders within the states or nation, but the numbers are estimated to be approximately 665,000 U.S. citizens who have been convicted of some “sex crime”. That’ s about one person in 455 U.S. citizens, folks.