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May 7, 2010

Notable variations in state approaches to juve sex offenders

This new AP story, which is headlined "States vary on dealing with youth sex offenders," provides an effective review of the diversity in how different states deal with juvenile sex offenders. Here are excerpts:

When Ricky Blackman was 16, he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl, and an Iowa judge ordered him to register as a sex offender. But if Blackman had lived in at least a half-dozen other states, his name would never have appeared on a registry because states are deeply divided on how to deal with the nation's youngest sex offenders.

Juvenile justice advocates want rehabilitation instead of registration, yet public safety experts argue children must be protected from predators, even if they are minors. The confusing array of rules for juvenile sex offenders persists despite a vast overhaul that was adopted four years ago to bring clarity and consistency to the nation's sex offender registration laws.

"It's a real bind for the states," said Michele Deitch, an attorney who teaches criminal justice policy at the University of Texas. "Do you want to comply with what could be poor public policy or risk not complying with the federal law? And there's no easy answer."

Twenty-one states currently require juveniles convicted of a serious sex crime to register with law enforcement, according to an Associated Press review of state laws and interviews with state officials.

In 19 other states, only juveniles convicted as adults or who move from a state that requires registration are required to provide their information to authorities. In the remaining states, the laws vary. In Nevada, for instance, a juvenile sex offender can petition a judge to set aside registration requirements.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed a law requiring states to adopt a series of sex offender measures, including the registration of all juveniles who commit serious sex crimes such as abuse or rape. The law was designed to create a national sex offender registry and toughen penalties for those who fail to register.

Ohio is so far the only state to meet the new federal standards, but states have until July to comply so they can build up their online registries and ensure the information can be incorporated into the national database.

Of the 21 states that require juvenile sex offenders to register, at least four states do not publish all of their details online, such as photographs and home addresses.

Critics said young offenders will be more likely to reoffend because of the humiliation of being labeled a sex offender. "These kids can get better and here you are punishing them for life without offering any treatment. That to me is unethical," said Dr. Valerie Arnold, the interim chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Tennessee. "Even convicted murderers aren't put on a list like this."

It's unclear how many of the nation's estimated 686,000 sex offenders are juveniles. But a recent study by the University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center that found more than a third of those who sexually abuse children are juveniles. "It's a difficult balance," said Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "We're in favor of the rehabilitative ideal and targeting treatment for the youngest offenders, but many of America's offenders are kids — and they are committing very serious sex offenses."...

Those who want juvenile sex offenders on registries acknowledge the requirements are not ideal, but they say the benefits to public safety far outweigh the impact on a juvenile sex offender's psyche.

Supporters often refer to the case of Amie Zyla, who was sexually assaulted when she was 8 years old in Wisconsin by a 14-year-old family friend. She became a leading advocate of juvenile registration requirements when her perpetrator was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to later fondling two teen boys. "The simple truth is that juvenile sex offenders turn into adult predators," she said at a 2005 Congressional hearing. "Kids all over the country need the same kind of protection as in Wisconsin."

Yet there is a wide disparity in how states treat juvenile offenders. In Texas, where judges decide whether to put juveniles on the registry, lawmakers led a push several years ago to make it automatic. But the measure's sponsor, Texas state Rep. Jim McReynolds, said he abandoned the effort after concluding the new requirements would be too costly and may end up harming the juvenile offenders. "The more I began to look at it, the more I saw it was pretty doggone tough on juveniles," said McReynolds, who chairs the House Corrections Committee. He now favors more treatment.

In Maryland, powerful lawmakers are aiming to require those 14 and older who commit rape and other serious sex crimes to register. "Juveniles are treated as adults in other areas of the law," said Delegate Bill Frank of Baltimore County, one of the measure's sponsors. "And if a juvenile commits a first-degree rape, that juvenile should be required to register as a sexual offender."

The challenging question upon reflection is whether we ought to regard the state-by-state differences here as a healthy form of "laboratory of the states" federalism or instead as an unjust form of national sentencing disparity.  Any thoughts dear readers on whether we should be pleased or troubled by the state diversity found regarding juve sex offender law and policy?

May 7, 2010 at 09:45 AM | Permalink


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is there any sort of survey of the different state laws on this available?

my opinion is that forceable offenses and offenses against young children should be listed regardless of the age of the offender. the other offenses should not be listed.

Posted by: virginia | May 7, 2010 12:11:08 PM

Registration means that the juveniles life is mostly over, regarding to getting a job to earn a living. If you cant earn a living, you are most likely going to live on the street or crappy homes.

Posted by: N/A | May 7, 2010 3:31:32 PM

i think forceable offences ...i.e. those that involve REAL force ALL of them sexual or otherwise should be listed. That was what the registry was created for to begin with. THE WORST OF THE WORST. Violent or REPEAT offenders not idiots with 1 crime every 10-20-30 years! or those with no violence.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 7, 2010 11:37:01 PM

How are juveniles treated under SORNA?

Juveniles who are prosecuted and convicted as adults of a sex offense are covered by SORNA and are treated identical to an adult sex offender. Juvenile offenders not prosecuted as adults are not required to register by SORNA unless the offender is 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense and has been adjudicated delinquent for an offense comparable to or more severe than aggravated sexual abuse (as described in section 2241 of title 18, United States Code), or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense.

The consensus so far goes along with SORNA (myself included). Logical thinking will draw this conclusion.

States will try other practices... in the long run sensibility will leverage. Especially when the state has to address budget issues.

Posted by: Mike | May 8, 2010 1:38:49 AM


So, if a 13-year-old and 14-year-old experiment, the 14-year-old should be on the registry, thus making it easier for much older offenders to look him up?

I can't understand how society, and people like virginia, think it okay to treat juveniles like adults in the court system, all the while telling them that they are not.

Everyone is for public hangings until it is them, or someone close to them hanging from the rope... then they think its no good very bad.

Posted by: Huh? | May 9, 2010 11:05:07 PM

huh? "So, if a 13-year-old and 14-year-old experiment, the 14-year-old should be on the registry, thus making it easier for much older offenders to look him up?"

me: all i have to say is that not every 14 year old chooses a willing partner for their "experiments."

Posted by: virginia | May 10, 2010 7:06:08 PM

There's a lot of research that suggest that it's wrong to assume that juvenile sex offenders become adult offenders. Quite the reverse. Here's one:


This study employs data from three birth cohorts from Racine, Wisconsin to examine the issue of juvenile to adult sex offending and its implications for current sex offender public policy. It finds that the fraction of juvenile sex offenders who committed adult sex offenses was quite small. Second, males who committed juvenile sex offenses were a tiny fraction of the cohort males who had a police contact for a juvenile offense. Third, the best predictor during a juvenile career for adult sex offending was the frequency of offending as a juvenile rather than whether a boy committed a sexual offense.

Try this Google search too. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&cites=9243745893142674242&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&ei=wHM4TImPJsKqlAfVi8nVBw&ved=0CBYQzgIwAA

Posted by: Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | Jul 10, 2010 9:25:54 AM

that's just wrong.


Posted by: Sarah "How Do I Have A Girl" Smith | Jul 8, 2011 11:18:15 AM

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