Rethinking sex offender registries gains support
By Erica R. Meiners . . . When police arrived at her house to arrest her on May 8, 2013, Tammy Bond turned to her niece and said: “Aunt Tammy did something wrong.”
At age 45, she had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old. She was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and, like 26,000 others in Illinois, required to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.
She has great difficulty finding housing or employment. She cannot eat in fast-food restaurants with playgrounds. If a recent Chicago ordinance had passed, she would have been banned from public libraries during the summer. No other conviction results in this level of interference with daily life once time behind bars has been served.
Prison reform is the topic of the day. Last year, former President Bill Clinton renounced the 1994 omnibus crime bill that helped fill the nation’s prisons. The Black Lives Matter movement has insistently called attention to structural racism throughout the justice system. A strange coalition is building in favor of reform at the federal level, made up of Democrats such as President Obama and anti-big-government Republicans such as Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.
Yet for the hundreds of thousands of adults like Bond who must register as sex offenders, penalties are only getting harsher. In one high-profile example, Congress recently passed a bill to require that sex offenders’ passports have a “unique identifier.” At press time, it was on Obama’s desk.
In this reformist moment, the treatment of sex offenders could set a problematic precedent. In 2015, New York state Sen. Thomas Croci (R) introduced a bill to create a public registry for people convicted and suspected of terrorism. For politicians seeking to cut prison costs, why not repurpose the tools used to surveil and contain sex offenders—public registries, community notification apps, restrictions on mobility and employment, even passport stamps—to control other populations defined as dangerous or undesirable? (Please read complete article at In These Times)