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July 6, 2016

Deep dives into realities of sex offender registries two decades after they started to proliferate

Vox has these two lengthy new pieces looking at the realities of sex offender registries:

Here is an extended excerpt from the first of these pieces:

The registry was designed for "sexual predators" who repeatedly preyed on children (at least according to the fears of 1990s policymakers). The purpose was supposed to be not punishment but prevention. The theory: Sexual predators" were unable or unwilling to control their urges, and the government could not do enough to keep them away from children, so the job of avoiding "sexual predators" needed to fall to parents....

Twenty years later, the focus on sex crimes has shifted from sexual abuse of children to sexual assault and rape. The idea that criminals can’t control their behavior has been replaced by attention to the cultural and institutional failures that allow rapes to happen and go unpunished; the idea that it’s up to potential victims to change their behavior is usually criticized as victim blaming.

Yet the sex offender registry is still going strong.

It hasn’t worked as a preventive tool. Instead, it's caught up thousands of people in a tightly woven net of legal sanctions and social stigma. Registered sex offenders are constrained by where, with whom, and how they can live — then further constrained by harassment or shunning from neighbors and prejudice from employers.

Some of the people on the sex offender registry have had their lives ruined for relatively minor or harmless offenses; for example, a statutory rape case in which the victim is a high school grade younger than the offender.

Others are people like Brock Turner — people who have committed serious crimes that are nonetheless very different from the ones the registry was supposed to prevent, and which the registry might, in fact, make harder to fight.

This happens often in the criminal justice system: Something designed for one purpose ends up getting used for something else. As usual, it happened because people can't agree on what society wants to do with criminals to begin with.

July 6, 2016 at 09:33 AM | Permalink

Comments

"Others are people like Brock Turner — people who have committed serious crimes that are nonetheless very different from the ones the registry was supposed to prevent, and which the registry might, in fact, make harder to fight."

I'm not sure I understand this part of your comments. Can you expand on it a bit and how the registry makes this harder to fight?

Thank you!

Posted by: Kirsten Tynan | Jul 6, 2016 10:55:13 AM

Registry has got to go!

Posted by: kat | Jul 6, 2016 11:04:04 AM

We need to understand why the registration came about in the first place--people like Lawrence Singleton and Jesse Timmendequas. Arrogant government officials placed these animals in the midst of neighborhoods full of defenseless kids without . Megan Kanka did NOT deserve to die. So let's not f'in forget that. Now I agree that the sex offender registry is over-inclusive and it should be reserved for pedophiles, forcible rapists and others of that ilk. Lifetime registration should almost NEVER be used for crimes committed by juveniles under the age of 13. I also believe that some of the draconian restrictions on RSOs who have served their prison/parole time are ridiculous.

But we need the registry.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2016 11:34:37 AM

"We need the registry"? For whom? My son who was diagnosed with high functioning autism back in 1997, who has never even touched a girl? We need to first ask ourselves what is the P2P file sharing software doing to us? Is this program catching veiwers and traders, or is it creating them? Every time I slip a DVD into my player I get a full screen FBI warning telling me exactly how many years I could be incarcerated, and exactly what the fine would be for copywright infringement. But the P2P file sharing programs have no warnings of any kind. When my son was charged with possession his immediate family, and extended family who consist of PhD's and many Masters level aunts and uncles commented that, like mom and dad, you can go to prison for looking? My son's court mandated therapist tells my son after meeting him for the first time that, "no one needs to go to prison for this, this is really a clinical issue."

Posted by: tommyc | Jul 6, 2016 11:56:10 AM

What does the registry really accomplish? The general public can't do anything with the information except panic.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jul 6, 2016 2:01:30 PM

Ah Yes, the SO registry, the turd that can't be flushed or polished, thanks to the Supreme Court.

The registry, as currently constructed by nincompoops for nincompoops, is clearly punishment and violates several constitutional principles, no matter what 6 cowardly baboons in black pajamas determined in Smith vs. Doe!

You have people with non-contact offenses listed as determined by a particular state for the sole purpose of receiving federal bribes (Byrne Grants) for local LE. Also, if we are to have a registry, it is incomplete without the likes of:

John Walsh (dated ex-wife Reve when he was 20 and she was 16)
WJ Clinton (had s-x with a subordinate while he was in a position of authority)
Mark Foley (sent inappropriate texts to male teenage pages)
Eliot Spitzer (used tax money to pay for call girls).

What a waste of tax money for a warped "think of the children" mentality. Hypocrites anyone?

Posted by: albeed | Jul 6, 2016 5:04:17 PM

you people are idiots. Read what I wrote.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2016 5:14:12 PM

Yeah, ok, two anecdotes support this abomination. There were and are many more effective tools to manage actual dangerous SO's than the registry. But, Wendell Callahan, right?

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jul 6, 2016 5:40:31 PM

Fed:

Please note my qualifier "as currently constructed". You also cite problems with the registry and subsequent linked laws. Am I wrong?

Like one W.O. is famous for, he knows what one means, in spite of what one wrote.

Back in 24 hours.

Posted by: albeed | Jul 6, 2016 5:44:22 PM

Federalist, in what sense did officials "place" Singleton and Timmendequas in the neighborhoods where they committed their crimes? As far as I can remember, they lived in those places because that's where they lived.

Posted by: azazel | Jul 6, 2016 8:09:29 PM

Here's some stats from the Oklahoma sex offender registry:

Of the 6,336 offenders listed:

Level 3 offenders (Those who were convicted of a "hands on" offense): 66%
Level 3 habitual offenders (same as above, multiple offenses): 2.8%
Level 1 and 2 offenders (neither hands on or habitual): 28.9%

(Source: Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry https://sors.doc.state.ok.us/svor/f?p=119:1:)

Is it another indictment of our criminal justice system (CJS) that over 4,200 Oklahoma residents will be ostracized for the rest of their lives for a mistake that they, in all likelihood, will never make again?

I'm sure the police have better things to do than visit someone who was so impressed by the CJS (i.e., "scared straight") that they will never offend again.

The habitual offender gets lost in the proverbial woodpile - and law enforcement, overburdened as it is, gets to spend unnecessary time checking up on people who only want to be left alone as they are no longer a threat.

This doesn't mean I think we should be soft on crime, or turn a blind eye to the fact that victims may suffer. At the same time, laws based on public opinion and not fact and scientific research aren't really laws, but oppression.

Posted by: oswaldo | Jul 7, 2016 12:05:51 AM

These sex offender registration laws can also put police and other law enforcement personnel at unnecessary risk to their own safety if the stigmatization resulting from such laws gives the former offender a "nothing left to lose" attitude. The job of a law enforcement employee is dangerous enough even without these stupid registry laws. I could imagine a scenario where a disgruntled former sex offender during Halloween when most former sex offenders have to be at their homes without any lighting might decide to booby-trap their places against any parole officer that makes an unannounced visit on their property (their "castle"). I could also imagine other scenarios where former sex offenders who are huddled together under an interstate highway as they are in Miami, Florida, might decide to band together to form a militant self-defense committee against law enforcement in the same manner that the Black Panthers and Young Socialists did against police during the 1960's and early 1970's. They might even do with militant gays in New York City did when police attempted to raid the Stonewall Gay Nightclub. Angry gays surprised frightened police by setting a trap for them, chasing the frightened police out of their night club--hence, the name: Stonewall Riot!

Indeed, we have had a few instances, like in Savannah, Georgia, where an individual former sex offender phoned in some bomb threats to the local sex offender registry. Thank God, nobody was hurt by these threats. He was later arrested and charged with making terroristic threats against the police department. In Wisconsin, we had a former sex offender who went over the edge by making bomb threats against a shopping mall before he was finally apprehended.

My argument is, that instead of making the law-abiding public and their children more safe, this law causes many former sex offenders who would otherwise go "straight" to go off the deep end and dangerously lash out at law enforcement.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 7, 2016 9:47:20 AM

Yes Mr. Delzell, how would all these non contact offenders be carrying on day-to-day if they were given a second chance at life, with proper clinical, and societal support, instead of their current state of trying to survive under life long punitve, fear based laws??

Posted by: tommyc | Jul 7, 2016 12:16:10 PM

Federalist is one of those nincompoops you speak of albeed. They are revenge junkies out for blood and yes, the Constitution was broken in 2003 with the preposterous decision that registeries were not punitive. They most certainly and most obviously are. There have been faint signs that the defective Supreme Court may be presented with another chance to rectify this grave wounding of our Constitution. What nincompoops like Federalist do not comprehend is that if they can do it to me thay can do it to you, and it's only a matter of time. After all, having to register and proclaim to strangers your entire history is not punitive. Get ready, Federalist, reap what you have sown.

Posted by: Stephen Douglas | Jul 7, 2016 3:15:08 PM

Federalist is one of those nincompoops you speak of albeed. They are revenge junkies out for blood and yes, the Constitution was broken in 2003 with the preposterous decision that registeries were not punitive. They most certainly and most obviously are. There have been faint signs that the defective Supreme Court may be presented with another chance to rectify this grave wounding of our Constitution. What nincompoops like Federalist do not comprehend is that if they can do it to me thay can do it to you, and it's only a matter of time. After all, having to register and proclaim to strangers your entire history is not punitive. Get ready, Federalist, reap what you have sown.

Posted by: Stephen Douglas | Jul 7, 2016 3:15:17 PM

Did anyone actually read what I wrote? I sharply criticized the registries. I just, unremarkably, pointed out what brought them about.

Azazel--both Timmendequas and Singleton were placed. Singleton actually had to pitch a tent at San Quentin because no place would take him, and some twit said, "Well, he has to live somewhere"--ok, next door to you, gov't official. Singleton, no surprise, went on to kill again.


Posted by: federalist | Jul 7, 2016 5:10:30 PM

Fed:

Thank you for clarifying your comment and expressing your concern!

Posted by: albeed | Jul 7, 2016 11:00:25 PM

This morning, we all woke up to the horrors of the deaths of five police officers along with the wounding of at least six others in Dallas. The pent-up rage over the killings and murders of several blacks by other police officers most likely played a major role in causing the person (or several persons) to go off the deep end by killing and injuring the Dallas officers, including many innocent ones. It even led to the false identification of an innocent black man as the Dallas killer before he was cleared. These deaths mean that the good police officers and civic-minded citizens have a job on their hands to change the culture in law enforcement in general and of police work in particular to root out the cause of anti-social behavior by law enforcement officials that can so dangerously backfire, sometimes on good police officers who had nothing to do with racist brutality in the past.

One wonders if places like Miami, Florida, which still forces former sex offenders to live under Interstate highways in huge concentrations could be the next Dallas. Could we eventually reach a tipping point where former sex offenders finally say, "Enough is enough with registration and civil commitment laws," and lash out in the same unfortunate way that those behind the death of the Dallas police officers did earlier yesterday? It is not hard for one down-and-out group to put two and two together when they learn of another down-and-out group suddenly and unexpectedly fighting back.

In white police officer's best interest to have law-abiding members of discriminated minorities (including classes of ex-convicts who have paid their debt to society) have an incentive to trust the police. Only by earning and keeping trust with law-abiding groups with a history of distrust towards the police can police hope to a really effective job in fighting crime and unequal justice.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 8, 2016 5:41:53 PM

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