TN to Add Juveniles To Sex Offender Registry

December 19, 2009

Chattanoogan.com : Maggart, Black To Push For violent Juveniles To Be Placed On Sex Offender Registry.
Tennessean.com : Sex registries for youth: better politics than policy.

State Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) and Senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin) said they will push for passage of legislation in January to place violent juvenile offenders on Tennessee’s Sex Offender Registry as required under the federal Adam Walsh Act. The legislators introduced legislation today to place offenders between the ages of 14 and 18 years of age on the Registry.

The bill filed by state Sen. Diane Black and state Rep. Debra Maggart to require the registration of youths convicted of sex offenses will do little to secure the safety of Tennessee children, will have long-lasting consequences for youths on registries and may actually reduce public safety.

The legislators say that their bill will help bring Tennessee into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act. Around the country, there is growing discontent with this unfunded and ill-conceived federal mandate. Certainly, youth need to be held accountable for their actions; but registration that can last for decades or a lifetime is not an effective or fair way to do this.

Youths are particularly amenable to change and should not be treated the same as adults. That is the rationale behind a separate system of juvenile justice, which caters to the specific needs of youths.

Registries in effect re-punish youths and may hinder success when they return to the community. Youths on registries often experience rejection from peer groups and positive adult role models and are, therefore, more likely to associate with anti-social peers. They are also less likely to attend positive activities like school and church. The online display of personal information may even put youths or their families at risk.

Furthermore, the fear of having a child on the registry may make parents less likely to seek needed help or treatment for their child (or even report a crime).

Registration may hurt a young person’s ability to maintain employment or access education and housing and can hinder his or her ability to access the re-entry services shown to be critical for young people who are trying to turn their lives around.

Registries also create a false sense of security for families who rely on them to identify people who might be a threat.

Registration requirements also overburden law enforcement and take away resources that can be more effectively used to protect public safety. States attempting to implement the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act have seen law enforcement tasked with database management rather than community protection.

Most people are under the misperception that children are usually sexually assaulted by strangers and that registries are an effective prevention strategy. Sadly, the young woman who spoke at the bill’s announcement represents the reality that 93 percent of sexual assaults on children are committed by family members and acquaintances who likely wouldn’t be on a registry.

For too long, public policies around sex offenses have been driven by politics and misperceptions. The Adam Walsh Act is one example that will have particularly toxic results, especially for youths.

Instead of passing ineffective, punitive legislation such as the registry, resources should be focused on educating the public about the realities of sex offenses and how to protect their families from sexual violence, and providing better services for troubled youths.
We all want our children and communities to be safe, but the sex-offender registry makes better politics than policy.

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