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The use of sex offender registries has been a consistent crime deterrence mechanism and public awareness for more than two decades. Policymakers, courts, and law enforcement consistently rely on the database as a response to any sexually-related violations to be used for public protection. However, the current social realities and experience gained from the use of the registry have presented certain practical challenges and an incentive for the potential amelioration of its purpose. Sex offender registration laws require reform to ensure the protection of Constitutional rights, enable social rehabilitation, and become economically practical in application to prevent serious criminal behavior.
While some states like California had sex offender registries since the 1940s, they became introduced into national policy in 1994 by the Jacob Wetterling Act. It was reinforced in 1996 with the passage of the infamous Megan’s Law, which allowed federal officials to release the information regarding sex offenders publicly. In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA) was enacted, which established rules for registration, increased penalties, and established the Marshals Service by enforcing the law.
The national and state databases consist of two separate parts, one for law enforcement use with more detailed information, and one for public view with the availability of community notifications. The national database consists of a compilation of state and local lists, but despite some level of uniformity brought by AWA, there is a significant difference to standards of information (Biere, 2016).
The problem that needs to be addressed is the initial purpose of the database since it has become, to some extent, a ‘blacklist’ which is used to stigmatize individuals in a society. Sex offenders cannot lead a normal life because their privacy becomes compromised, significantly isolating them. In turn, this aspect leads to issues with rehabilitation and potentially increases recidivism rather than prevent it or criminal behavior from new offenders. Furthermore, the database has been requiring increased resources to manage and monitor, thus decreasing its effectiveness as a crime-deterrence mechanism.
Many sexual offenses are considered a felony, which results in a variety of consequences, including incarceration, supervision by a probation officer, and a mark on the criminal record. Registered sex offenders, similar to other individuals with criminal records, have difficulty with aspects such as employment or financial operations. However, the public availability of an individual’s conviction on the sex offender registry makes leading a normal life impossible.
Such aspects as rental housing, working-class employment, and having a social life that would have been possible for a regular criminal conviction (since a background check only occurs in certain instances) are cut off for sex offenders since the information is publicly available. The registration places a public label on a person that creates barriers to re-entry and stands as the primary point of social interaction due to stigmatization. The registry does not usually identify sex offenders based on crime, making it impossible for the public to differentiate between a child molester or a non-violent error of judgment (Evans & Cubellis, 2014).
The issues discussed in the previous problem force sex offenders to lead a detrimental lifestyle by living in the worst and most isolated neighborhoods, engaging in illegal activities for income, and evading the public eye. The indiscriminative sanctions against all sex offenders on the registry essentially prevent rehabilitation by creating an environment that forces negative behavior.
The sheer number of restrictions, particularly on movement and residency, create a significant chance for technical violations, which are automatically determined as a felony and additional jail time. Therefore, instead of serving the purpose of preventing recidivism, sex offender registration encourages it, most often in entirely unrelated crimes. At the same time, the statistics that less than 3% of registered offenders ever engage in repeated predatory behavior are ignored for the sake of public opinion (Miller, 2014).
Across the United States, there are more than 700,000 registered sex offenders, and the database continues to increase. The states are unable to provide resources to enhance the input of information and technology management of such IT infrastructure. Furthermore, incarcerations from technical violations are resulting in rising incarceration costs for the public penal system. The cost of operation for facilities holding sex offenders was at $224 million in 2004 and continues to inflate further.
Minor offenses such as public indecency and juvenile crimes have overwhelmed the system and deviate police resources from focusing on violent offenders. Law enforcement administration cannot effectively monitor databases of such large sizes, basically eliminating the purpose of the registry to protect the public from violent crime (Hynes, 2013).
Overall, the use of sex offender registries needs to undergo reforms regarding public policy, legislative significance, and technical parameters. Although the individuals on the list have been found guilty of criminal behavior, they are still protected by their Constitutional right to privacy. By making the information public, it causes stigmatization and creates barriers to maintaining a normal life, which is a form of mob punishment that is both illegal and immoral.
This form of isolation does not prevent future crimes from offenders or anyone else under the fear of being input into the database. It hinders rehabilitation and often leads to recidivism due to psychological factors or a technical violation of extremely unrealistic boundaries established by public policies. Furthermore, the addition of individuals for minor crimes of a sexual nature (mainly adolescents) leads to the rise of human resources and monetary expenses necessary to manage the database or efficiently distinguish dangerous offenders. It is possible to determine a solution by creating a rational approach to the situation that takes into account public interests while ensuring that the registry becomes a useful tool for legislative and law enforcement purposes.
Bierie, D. (2016). The utility of sex offender registration: a research note. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 22(2), 263-273. Web.
Evans, D. N., & Cubellis, M. A. (2015). Coping with stigma: How registered sex offenders manage their public identities. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(3), 593-619. Web.
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Hynes, K. (2013). The cost of fear: An analysis of sex offender registration, community notification, and civil commitment laws in the United States and the United Kingdom. Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs, 2(2), 351-379. Web.
Miller, E. (2014). Let the burden fit the crime: Extending proportionality review to sex offenders. Yale Law Journal, 123, 1607-1625. Web.