Archive for October 19, 2009

Sex Offender Registration: Disease or Cure?

October 19, 2009 Comments off : Sex Offender Registration: Part of the Disease, or Part of the Cure?

Laws requiring sex offender registration exist in some form in all 50 states. These regulations were initially proposed as a way to provide information about the location of persons convicted of sex-related crimes and to discourage registered offenders from committing additional crimes.

The Consequences of Sex Offender Registration

Unfortunately, while the lawmakers may have had good intentions, there is little evidence to suggest that these regulations are effective at preventing further crimes. Often, law enforcement officials focus efforts on locating offenders who are not in compliance with registry procedures, but even those who have registered and have regular contact with the authorities may commit further offenses.

Furthermore, increasingly draconian laws are unfairly restricting the rights of registrants. For example, some laws preventing registrants from living within a certain distance of schools, churches, parks and other places where children congregate are forcing registrants to move to increasingly rural areas, live on state-owned correctional facility property or even be homeless. Nassau County, New York, recently passed a law that would prevent convicted offenders from returning to their own homes if those homes are in close proximity to the victims.

Continued Punishment

Even after they pay their debt to society in the form of prison time and other penalties, some sex offenders undergo what seems like further punishment. Some states, including New York, have what are known as “civil commitment” statutes. These laws can be used to place convicted sex offenders, even those who are no longer in a correctional facility, in a treatment facility for further rehabilitation. This confinement could last indefinitely, until a panel determines that the offender has sufficiently recovered and can reenter society. Even then, sex offender registration requirements remain and must be complied with.

Though sex-related offenses have existed for hundreds of years, the keen fear surrounding sex offenders is more recent. Mainstream media is responsible for a significant percentage of this apprehension. In spite of the fact that most cases of rape, statutory rape, molestation and lewd acts occur between acquaintances or family members, the attention given to these crimes has been the impetus for public outcry and more stringent sex offender registration laws across the country. Twenty-four hour news channels, the Internet and even smartphone applications providing information about the location of local sex offenders feed the panic and unduly alarm individuals and families.

The result is sex offender registration laws that restrict registrants so much that their ability to secure gainful employment, find decent places to live and conduct meaningful lives is hampered.