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May 21, 2018

"Sex offender registry: More harm than good?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy report appearing in The Connecticut Mirror. The piece is focused mostly on the history of, and debate over, the sex offender registry in The Constitution State, but much of the discussion has a universal quality to it.  Here is how it gets started:

In the 1990s, in response to a number of horrific and highly publicized crimes against children, states and the federal government created stringent penalties for sex offenders, notably registries where offenders’ names and addresses are available to the public.  But now critics across the country are demanding review and revision of these policies, saying they are based on false assumptions, are a waste of money and do more harm than good.

The registries and related policies “are absolutely and fundamentally flawed. They do nothing to support prevention, are not a deterrent and do nothing for people who have survived sexual violence,” said Prof. Alissa Ackerman of California State University Fullerton, a criminologist and national expert on the treatment of sex offenders.

In 2015 the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, at the behest of the General Assembly, began a lengthy examination of Connecticut’s “system of assessment, management, treatment, and sentencing of sex offenders.”  After a two-year study, the commission recommended changing the state’s public registry from one based on the offense — commit most sex-related crimes and you go on the registry — to one based on the risk an offender poses to the community, as determined by a new, eight-member Sex Offender Registration Board.  Individuals found to be low-risk — and some adjudged moderate-risk — would be on a registry only available to law enforcement personnel.

The proposal was crystalized into a bill introduced during the immediate past session of the General Assembly, though it failed to make it out of the Judiciary Committee.

State Sen. Paul Doyle, co-chair of the committee, said the complexity and emotional nature of the issue made it more appropriate for the longer session next year. “We never got to the merits. Leadership was not prepared to deal with it in a short session.” He said he personally would have had to do more research before deciding how to vote.

In a related matter, the nonprofit Connecticut for One Standard of Justice, which advocates for the civil rights of sex offenders, filed a federal lawsuit on April 4 seeking to overturn a Windsor Locks ordinance which bars persons on the sex offender registry from most public places in town. The town’s “child safety zones” include a “park, school, library, playground, recreation center, bathing beach, swimming pool or wading pool, gymnasium, sports field, or sports facility” either owned or leased by the town. The suit claims banning a group of people from these facilities is unconstitutional....

The registry and laws such as child protection zones are based on a set of assumptions that research indicates are highly questionable or outright false. The Sentencing Commission’s 204-page report calls them “myths.”  They include:

  • Nearly all sex offenders reoffend.
  • Treatment does not work.
  • The concept of “stranger danger” — that most sexual assaults are the work of people unknown to the victims.

“Research does not support these myths, but there is research to suggest that such policies may ultimately be counterproductive,” the commission’s report says.

May 21, 2018 at 04:19 PM | Permalink


I certainly think that registries should be reserved for hard cases. Some examples that are definitely NOT hard cases include:

The teacher who sleeps with a student at her school, when the student is not her student, and would be a legal partner, were it not for the student thing.

The athlete who really needs to pee and finds a tree somewhere

The 24-year-old who has a 15-year-old boyfriend/girlfriend, but the age of consent is 16. (A 24-year-old with a lot of different 15-year-old sex partners would be another matter entirely)

A young person who sexts, or who receives a sext from his or her young friend. (These should not be prosecuted at all)

Pretty much any sex offender who is also a child, excepting only the worst rapists.

Some examples that might or might not be hard cases include:

The child porn consumer
Hookers and their clients
The psychologist who sleeps with a client
Some examples that are definitely hard cases include:

Forcible rapists who are adults
adults who have sex with young children
child porn producers who are not themselves children

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 22, 2018 12:14:03 AM

William. Say, the registry only listed the hard core offenders you listed. How is it a useful? In the Pennsylvania Registry, they warn, any harassment of the people listed will be prosecuted. Specify what one does after finding a sex offender in the vicinity.

The police knew about the sex crimes of the guy who took Jessica from her bed. They visited his trailer across the street from hers. They interviewed him and his wife. Meanwhile, she was alive in his closet. After they left, he was so cowardly, he could not kill her himself. Instead, he put her in a garbage bag, and buried her alive with her blue plush dolphin. If that is the case, what is a neighbor supposed to do?

Posted by: David Behar | May 22, 2018 8:17:51 AM

What happens when former sex offenders decide to assert themselves against these restrictions in the form of civil disobedience or not-so-civil-disobedience? All it takes is for a group of them to decide to defy these laws by blocking public entrances to libraries, parks, etc. How many police will we need to arrest these protesters when these police could otherwise perform more useful functions to public safety, like traffic-directing, answering burglary calls, etc.? These sex offender laws divert law enforcement from performing their more fundamental duties: stopping crime; gathering evidence; etc.

Posted by: william r. delzell | May 22, 2018 10:28:27 AM


When someone says a list is a list of "examples of" something, that's a clue that the list is not intended to be comprehensive. Now, if you look at my three lists, and you look at what John Couey was accused of prior to the murder, which of the three groups is the best fit to his priors, particularly forcibly fondling the 5-year-old?

That said, your example does bring up one valid point. One thing that would have suggested, prior to the murder, that Couey was a hard case was his long list of non-sexual priors. That's something I didn't mention.


Posted by: William Jockusch | May 23, 2018 8:06:22 PM

David Behar: Registries don't protect anyone or do anything useful. Bad news for you Nanny Big Government people.

Who are these people who are asking if the Registries do more harm than good? No informed people are asking that. So why are uninformed people seemingly always asking it? Can they not just learn something?

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | May 27, 2018 11:51:39 AM

Apologies to David Behar, I got the name wrong in my last post. I'm reading this on a smartphone. I shouldn't do that, the interface is lame. My comment should have been addressed to William J.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | May 27, 2018 11:57:22 AM

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