Look To Research, Not Fear Or Politics

April 16, 2010

courant.com: All Sex Offenders Are Not Equal- State Must Look To Research, Not Fear Or Politics.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed and signed by President George W. Bush in 2006. The law attempts to expand the scope of sex offender registries at the state level as well as create a national sex offender registry. States were told to sign on or risk losing a small amount of grant money.

Last week, a bill that would have brought Connecticut in line with the Walsh Act was — wisely — allowed to die in committee.

The Walsh Act has been widely criticized on many fronts, for everything from including adolescents as young as 14 on the list to violating several provisions of the Constitution. Only one state, Ohio, has adopted it.

Laws such as the Walsh Act, often named for victims of crimes the law is trying to prevent, are of course well-intentioned. But they tend not to be based on research, and so do not achieve an optimal level of public safety. Indeed, they can unintentionally make things worse.

For example, if Connecticut officials followed the research, they would not expand the state’s sex offender registry, but reduce it.

All states have sex offender registries to which residents have online access. Some states put offenders on their registries based on their risk to the community. Connecticut is one of the states that place people on the registry because they are convicted of a sex offense.

Many people assume everyone on the registry is either a rapist or pedophile. If that were so, the list would be much smaller. But it also includes an array of porn possessors, voyeurs and people who as older teenagers had consensual sex with an underage girlfriend or boyfriend. As a result, the state now has more than 5,000 people on the sex-offender registry, an increasingly unwieldy group for hard-pressed police departments to monitor.

Some on the list are dangerous and must be watched, but many are not. As the list is now presented, it’s difficult to tell one from the other. They are listed by the crime they were convicted of committing, but it’s not clear whether a conviction for “risk of injury” or “second-degree sexual assault” means the person is a danger to others. (The registry also misses people who pleaded to a lesser offense to stay off it.)

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