Yesterday, Tracy Breton a staff writer for The Providence Journal wrote about the difficulties of implementing a federal sexual offender registration law. In 2006, Congress enacted legislation to standardize the way states classify and register sex offenders and to make it easier for the public to learn about an offender’s presence in their communities.
Under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), states and federally recognized Indian tribes are required to set up centralized computer banks to track people convicted of sex crimes. The data is to include detailed information about each of them, along with a photograph which will be placed on a Web site that anyone can access.
The intent of the law is to reduce the number of sex crimes committed through the monitoring of sex offenders as they move from neighborhood to neighborhood or state to state. It is to establish an easy way for the public to find out if there’s a sex offender living nearby. A highlight of the basis argued by proponents of the law for its passage is that it would protect children from harmful sex predators. If you ever want to get anything passed that won't do any good and may actually harm children just say it is for their protection.
When a proposal is not fully vetted and passed on a whim, usually as a knee-jerk reaction to some immediate event, then what you usually get is an unintended consequence. This is where the necessity for people who have logic and analytical skills come in. There are going to be unintended consequences to SORNA and, yes, likely more harm caused to children.
Here are a two quotes from Breton's story. "Last week, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor in Louisiana told a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in Washington that implementing the law might actually result in fewer convictions of criminals who prey on young children because it will be hard to get offenders to plead guilty if they know they will be required to register on a Web site as a sex offender for the rest of their lives." "Already, cash-strapped California has informed the Justice Department that it will not implement SORNA even though it will mean a loss of about $2 million in federal funds this year. The reason is clear: it is estimated that it would cost California more than $59 million to implement everything mandated by the new law."
A flood of lawsuits have been filed around the country by defense lawyers representing sex offenders who were not required, as part of their original sentence, to register but who are now being told they must do so because of SORNA. Some completed sentences 30 or 40 years ago.
One of the reasons I have long opposed these types of public registration efforts is that statistics show that children are most often sexually assaulted by a family member or acquaintance. If people need a sex offender registry to inform them that a friend or family member is molesting their child then they have a serious parenting problem that will not be cured by a registry. These laws provide a false sense of security and actually promote putting offenders into situations where they will be likely to repeat offenses. By chasing prior offenders out of communities, forcing them into unemployment and publicly humiliating them you are likely to see them retreat from treatment that has been the best deterrent to recidivism.
These registries DO NOT let people know where sex offenders in their community live. The only information provided by these registries is where people who were convicted of sex crimes, who have registered, live or work. Proponents will be quick to point out that these are only tools that people can use but we know from experience that most people rely solely on these registries. However, the best option is rarely chosen by the public as we have seen in personal safety.
Seat belt and safety harnesses are a perfect example. I have had safety harnesses installed in some of my vehicles because seat belts aren't safe. This is not what the industry would have you believe though. The slogan "seat belts save lives" may be true but what they do not tell you is "seat belts are not safe". Why do we commonly have a two strap single point restraint in our vehicles when it is commonly known that the 5 strap, 5 point harness is the safest? Because people will not take the 30 seconds to prevent the disabling injuries caused by a single point restraint. How can we then expect them to take the time to actually investigate the people who have access to their children.
Laws like this may actually lead to fewer convictions. In Boone County Indiana prosecutor Todd Meyer runs a pre-packaged, assembly-line, fast-food type of criminal prosecution process where charges are filed, plea bargains to probation are offered and the case is quickly disposed of. Most defendants who demand jury trials get their charges dropped. A law mandating that an offender register for life is going to lead to more demands for jury trials rather than accepting the three years of probation. Prosecutors weary of having a poor conviction rate are not going to press these charges.
I always encourage everyone to demand a jury trial in every case. Prosecutors should be held accountable to ensuring that society is protected by only pursuing legitimate criminal charges rather than only those where a conviction seems likely assured. Meyer recently offered two years house arrest to a defendant accused of murdering a disabled child by poisoning her. The case of the accidental drug overdose is now set for trial. While he is busy wasting taxpayer money and court time there could be sex offenders not being prosecuted because the difficult to prove cases do not lead to high conviction rates.
This is not about saving children. This smoke screen is nothing less than a way for the federal government to interfere in state's rights and create litigation on a mass production scale that will keep lawyers for both sides very busy for years to come. In the meantime more children will be placed at risk and more taxpayer funds will be dumped down endless black holes that benefit no one but the suppliers receiving the contracts.
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