Why it’s time to examine sex offender registration practices

According to a report by the Council of State Governments, present-day sex offender laws are doing more harm them good.

In 1994, Congress created the sex offender registration. Since its implementation, lawmakers in various states have intensified the registration requirements for offenders. As a result, many individuals today are classified as "sex offenders" without differentiation to the risk they pose to the public.

For instance, an 18-year-old teenager who has consensual sex with a 17-year-old is given the same sex offender label, stigmatism, and registration requirements as an adult who is convicted of a sexual assault against a young child.

However, according to the Council of State Governments-a nonpartisan organization dedicated to cultivating ideas and providing data to state officials to help shape public policy-stringent sex offender laws are doing more harm them good.

The CSG Council released a report entitled: Sex offender management policy in the states. Influential public perception, categorization methods, and impracticable registration mandates are all contributing to what some experts are calling the "most draconian regime in the world" today.

Public perception and influence

The report is first to point out that misguided public perception regarding sex offenders is sadly what often determines the measures that are implemented.

Heightened public awareness due to extensive media coverage on high-profile sex offender cases like Polly Klaas and JayCee Dugard have prompted lawmakers to push for knee-jerk stringent regulations and sex offender registration requirements-all in response to public pressure rather than raw data or necessity.

And states that attempt to reform the system are met with robust pushback. The state of Missouri, for instance, recently attempted to loosen sex offender regulations for juvenile offenders. A bill was passed in both the state House and Senate that would have allowed sex offenders who committed offenses when they were 18 years of age or younger to petition for removal from the sex offender registry list. However, it was vetoed by the Missouri governor.

Classification

The report also discusses the problem with present categorization methods of sex offenders. Although data on adolescent behavior shows that juvenile offenders are much different than adults, teens are still stigmatized the same.

"Because of the important developmental differences between juveniles and adults, juvenile sex offenders do not pose the same public safety threat as adult sex offenders," the report points out.

Impractical registration mandates

The report also points out the lack of housing opportunities for released sex offenders. Many states have such severe limitations on where sex offenders can live. Because of such limitations, many often become homeless.

"Stabilization in the community contributes to decreases in reoffense rates," yet this data seems to fall on deaf ears.

Change

The report makes one simple conclusion: regulations and sex offender registration mandates today simply are not working.

In fact, "there is little empirical proof that sex offender registries [even] make communities safe," the report suggests.

Along with new-age policies based on concrete data, a cultural shift is desperately needed as well. Progress is happening, but it will likely take time. Until then, offenders facing sex crime charges are encouraged to seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney who can offer vital support and advocacy.

Keywords: sex offender laws, sex offender registration

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