Registries cost millions; Provide no additional safety

By Don Thurber . . . Last month, a new chapter was written in one of America’s oldest real-life murder mysteries. The body of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was finally found, 27 years after his abduction. Jacob’s gun-point abduction shocked the nation and spawned a network of state sex-offender registries, South Carolina’s among them. But extensive research since then has raised serious questions about the effectiveness of such measures.

Jacob’s mother, Patty, lobbied Congress to pass the Jacob Wetterling Act in 1994, the same year the S.C. Legislature established a state registry. Since then, lawmakers have added layer upon layer of ever more burdensome requirements.

These laws are almost always trumpeted as “protecting children” and regularly cite the claim that “sex offenders often pose a high risk of re-offending” (S.C. Code of Laws, 23-3-400). However, a steadily growing body of evidence demonstrates that this premise is simply not true and that our sex-offender laws in fact do very little to protect children.

South Carolina now has more than 14,000 citizens on the registry; probably fewer than a thousand of those pose any real risk to the public. But you can’t identify them because the registry is cluttered with thousands of people whose crimes were committed decades ago, teens who had sex with other teens and countless minor offenses. Tier assignments confuse the issue further, giving the illusion of identifying the riskier registrants although they are unrelated to the risk of re-offense.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of child sexual assaults are not committed by previously convicted sex offenders: 94 percent, according to a 2003 Department of Justice study. Numerous other studies have produced similar results. Turning that number around, it means that for all the expense and effort put into registries, they are, at best, relevant to only about 6 percent of child molesting cases. So we are focusing vast attention and resources on a very small segment of the crimes and doing very little to prevent the other 94 percent.

The Wetterling case provides a good illustration. Even though Jacob’s death provided the impetus to begin this crusade, the sad irony is that if all of today’s laws had been in existence in 1989, they would have done nothing whatsoever to protect Jacob Wetterling. Jacob’s killer had no previous sex crime convictions. He did not choose a victim from his neighborhood; Jacob was kidnapped some 30 miles from the perpetrator’s home.

The Justice Department study also demonstrated that re-offense rates of sex offenders are actually far below other offense groups: Only 3.5 percent of child molesters were convicted of another sex crime during the three-year study period.

South Carolina mandates lifetime registration, but a long-term study released last year by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation revealed that after former offenders remain offense-free for 15 years, the statistical probability of them committing a new sex crime was indistinguishable from the general population. The bottom line is that the state’s registry and related policies are consuming millions of dollars and imposing onerous restrictions on thousands of citizens, but are perilously close to useless.

It is time to change course. Interestingly, Patty Wetterling, who championed the original registry law, now advocates for scaling back registries, recognizing that what they have become has diminished their usefulness and caused untold collateral damage.

As our Legislature reconvenes in January, lawmakers need to take a long, hard look at the sex-offender registry and related laws. Consider what is actually supported by research and contemporary knowledge versus what has been passed as a result of 1980s-era myths and emotional knee-jerk reactions to isolated horrific crimes.

Scaling back the registry would no doubt raise the hackles of some who love to play the label-and-hate game, but doing so would be the most just and economically expedient thing to do. And the citizens of the state would be much better served by a smaller (and cheaper) registry that accurately identifies those who might pose a real risk.

Mr. Thurber is S.C. state advocate for Reform Sex Offender Laws; contact him at

Source: The State, Columbia, SC

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22 Thoughts to “Registries cost millions; Provide no additional safety”

  1. AvatarRaj

    I think the sex offender registry and related laws are being played as an example by the globalists or United Nations to create a one world approach to bring about the cohesion between legal and political spectra across the globe. The framework is already in place and implemented as those in the registry are denied international travel and more domestic scrutiny. However, the sex offender registry would not be the last group to be ostracized as the environment is being created for other group or sectors of society who could be denied their rights and thus isolated. Perhaps it could be Christians next, gun owners, etc.

  2. AvatarFair & Balanced

    Yes, this true: registries do cost millions but provide no additional safety; however, I believe law makers know this but don’t give a damn. And the general public, having gone schizoid with fear of and loathing for RSOs, is willing to burn millions annually just to feel as though they are safe. In addition, this same general public will, at any election, roast over the coals any legislator who even THINKS about taking the shackles off RSOs. Take this into consideration: Sex Offenses are EMOTIONAL in nature. Facts, statistics, logic & reasoning, empirical evidence put forth by some of the most prominent and respected researchers, clinicians, psychologist and experts in this field on this issue means absolutely nothing to proponents of SO laws. Anybody ever asked why? Also, ask yourself why proponents are silent on another peripheral dynamic equally important and that is the effects the registry has on the family of RSOs. What exactly are they saying with their silence?

  3. This is one of the best articles I have seen on here and it promotes promise. Patty Wettterling has come to realize that the registry’s cause confusion and yes the registry needs to be scaled back. I love the label and hate phrase that in in this article as that makes a lot of since.
    Yes nobody likes a sex offender but than again nobody likes a sinner. In other words one can look at it this way. Government wants to control sin thru this gave of hide and peek in a lot of these ordeals. They want to control the individual caught up in this for life and limiting their liberty and over shadowing their Justice.
    And yes their is money involved in all of this sex registry stuff.
    They can secese ones car or computer and give ones hefty fines. Multiply all that and you will see a cash crop of government that doesn’t want to admit that they are protecting one.
    In other words the sex offender has become a slave to this system where they tell you where to live what to do what to not touch and it just binds the person and engulfs one in all this life. One has no livelihood. And its more of a conquer and divide situation when sin flares up its ugly nose.

  4. AvatarDeb

    Instead of wasting millions on maintaining registry, money can be spent on research and education. When we look at the registry in most cities we find there is someone within every half a mile. Soon we will be offenders listed in every block of a city.

    Any security system that raises false alarm is as good as no security at all. People starts to ignore alarms when they realize there are false alarms.

    Registry should be reformed. Entry to registry should be selected by something like a parole board. Experts should evaluate who should be in the registry, irrespective of the nature of the crime.

    1. AvatarEmil S

      The current registry didn’t get this monstrous from get-go. It is like a frog in a warm water analogy. So when you say “Registry should be reformed. etc. etc.” It makes very little sense as the registry will grow again like cancer under a different political climate.
      The registry along with probation/supervision needs to be abolished just like slavery was abolished.

    2. AvatarDeb

      Selective probation/supervision is necessary for fairness in Justice. Sentencing guidelines will never be perfect. If one attacks a teenager with a knife and causes serious injury the attacker gets one year prison time, where as touching the private parts even without force one can get 14 years of prison time.

      With public emotion coming out of culture, religion and past grievances over injustice punishment guidelines for sex offense is too high. I think a rehabilitative probation system is a better for everyone than mandatory long sentencing.

    3. AvatarEmil S

      There have been cases where people got additional years in Supervision even though he/she has fulfilled his/her jail/prison sentence. For a state it is easy since they want to make people feel safe by showing that these people who have been labeled as sex offenders are not simply let go free back to the society right out of jail/prison even though they have to now register and report periodically.
      What you said makes sense if the court divided a person’s sentence into active incarceration and then probation/supervised release, but it has been shown that the states do not care/ courts do not care to these “sex offenders”. They throw any and everything to the kitchen sink when it comes to a sex crime sentencing.

  5. AvatarRuby Deleon

    My concern is if “sex offenders” have been caught in stings via all media and communication measures, and were prosecuted and punished to the fullest, why are they not also looking into Mr. Trump’s tape in which everyone is opinionating he is a predator and has committed an assault ??? Please let’s stick to the issue at hand and not the voting.

    1. FredFred

      Because it is about making money, not justice. If they went after someone wealthy enough to fight them without hard evidence they would lose money.

      This stretches the resources of law enforcement as the article implies, but it makes money for the court and prison system. The same concept as a speed trap.

    2. AvatarNH Registrant

      You couldn’t be more right, Fred! It IS all about the money! If there was no money in Sex Offender Hysteria, then it wouldn’t exist.

      The Registry ONLY exists to make money and political brownie points. It’s exploitative of the accused and their families. But, as long as that money keeps flowing and the public is ignorant, the states don’t give one flying you-know-what.

  6. You know it seems we are all involved in this sex thing one way or another. Even this election has brought out the best and worst. Whether Government makes money off of some sexy magazines or other means its all the same when you look at it.
    You people have given me very good thoughts on all this. So can we all say we were catch up in a catch 22 scandal or governments way of penalizing one in all these sex offenses?
    Now Government and law enforcements want to control the sex moral, where is constitutional morals? People have gotten on me on here about the Bible but that’s the foundation and principals of all moral man. You take that out of government what do you have.
    I don’t really want to talk about the Government but look at how the election is going. All I am saying is that deception of any kind is the root to evil.
    Whether you were caught up on a computer, whether you touched someone in appropriately or whether you whether using the wrong bathroom.
    Can’t we all judge with our conscious what’s right and what’s wrong. Is buying that latest swimsuit issue or that smut magazine right or wrong… where’s the money trail in that.
    Should we judge our neighbor because he or she holds the label of “sex offender” or some other label such as being a drunk or drunk driving? If biblical principals are tossed away then there is no principals (i.e. Ten Commandments) or no root to base anything on, just the law of man’s wisdom.

    1. AvatarJerry

      One of the problems with government is the lack of term limits for representatives and senators at the federal and state level. These legislators get in and then do the work of the wealthy who funded and keep funding their campaigns instead of doing the work for the betterment of their constituency. Then every once in a while when they attempt to do something for the betterment of society as a whole, they respond with knee-jerk reactions to media hyperbole about the latest demon in society. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was the sex offender. But today, who really is a sex offender?

      I know I will probably take a lot of heat for this, but the original idea of placing persons on a registry that actually served a jail or prison sentence for sexual assault or rape was a good idea. The problem was making the registry public. In other countries that have sex offender registries, only law enforcement has access to the information. For crimes of sexual assault and rape, I don’t see a problem with only law enforcement having a data base of such offenders. However, the public shaming and humiliation for these type of offenders goes beyond reason. If we really want these types of offenders to get help while serving their sentences, then we need to give them a fair chance to prove remorse and go on with their life. We aren’t going to get that with a public sex offender registry and employers who will not hire these ex-offenders at a living wage and at a job that has nothing to do with the possibility of re-offending. It is ridiculous. Then after a “reasonable” time, remove them from the police registry. EVERYONE deserves a second chance. With these crimes, I do not think if it were a family member of mine that I’d be in favor of a third chance.

      I make no apology for finding crimes of public urination, streaking, arbitrary Romeo & Juliette laws (which today would have listed our grandfathers and great grandfathers and many politicians in their days on such a sex offender registry), police stings where there is no real victim, and downloading subjective definitions of child pornography that are inconsistent depending on the state being eligible for listing on any sex offender registry, public or law enforcement eyes only. This isn’t reasonable.

    2. AvatarMichelle

      I was a victim of rape at the age of 10 unwilling yet never reported it. Now as an adult I am married to someone who has been convicted of 2nd degree rape because of dating someone to young with parental consent. Something that he, I and our children have to live with, because of a mistake. I think he along with other have done their time for the crime. Also yes I don’t think that the public should have their information because that leads the harassing and judgment. The laws need to be changed.

  7. AvatarRaj

    Will President Bill Clinton be in the Sex Offender Registry?
    What about the creepy uncle Vice President Joe Biden ?
    Or is the sex offender registry just for the common people?

    1. FredFred

      It sounds like Trump is the newest sex offender in the political arena. He actually has a hearing coming up in January I think involving a 13 year old girl. Lets not bring politics into this. Both sides are equally guilty of passing sex offender laws.

    2. AvatarRaj

      You are right that’s politics. However, I see major sex offender laws being passed in the liberal/democrat run terms, like Megan law in Bill Clinton’s term and International Megan law in Obama’s term, which is kinda ironic.
      Now Hillary Clinton, who once termed black men as Super Predators who need to be brought to their heels, is seeking the office. I don’t mean Donald Trump is ideal, but it seems life under Clinton will be the same continuation of Status-quo and more of the globalist agenda in the US. But sadly, the Constitution of this country is something politicians like to speak of but not truly follow when it comes to new policies and laws.

    3. FredFred

      It is really not party related. Yes democrats happened to be in the white house when highly public cases were out These laws pass virtually un-oppossed on both sides of the aisle. In my state Republicans are behind the tougher SO legislations and they pass un-oppessed. It is the courts who will make a difference, not the lawmakers.

      If we start talking about politics in terms of who is better for our cause, we are going to start turning on each other and that will be very destructive. I am very political too and in any other forum I would gladly debate, but in here we are united and I hope we can stay that way.

    4. FredFred

      But yes, I agree with your assessment. Those with privilege seem to escape accountability far more often than the rest of us.

  8. AvatarBill

    Has anyone else received a letter in the mail saying this:
    By the 8/25/2016 decision of the United States Court of Appeals in Does v Snyder, Nos. 15-1536/2346/ 2486, you must act quickly to obtain a local court order to be removed from the sex offender registry BEFORE the Sex Offender Registration Act is amended to keep you as a second-class citizen forever.
    You must provide an email address where your legal documents, forms, and instructions can be sent. It does not need to be your email address
    We cannot guarantee that you will not draw a biased county judge who denies your rights. However, if that happens, we will be here to help you proceed. It is our goal to have all Tier III offenders convicted in Michigan before 2006 removed from the registry. Once the Legislature amends the law all bets are off. By typing in your name and email address, then clicking “Buy Now,” you acknowledge that you have read this disclaimer and agree to proceed at your own risk.
    It’s $34.95. They send you official Michigan court documents to your email address. What does everyone think?

    1. FredFred

      Definitely a scam.

    2. AvatarResearch it thoroughly

      Do your research….sounds like a phishing expedition if not from a legitimate source. What is the source, e.g. law firm, etc? If a real thing, sounds interesting to follow through, but dig into it first.

  9. AvatarChris

    I looked at underage pictures, therefore I am on the registry, even though there is not a shred of evidence to be found that I have ever molested a child, or ever will. I was tested thoroughly at a highly accredited place, and found to have a 4% chance of recidivism, and this is just for looking at pictures again, which I never will. No matter. I am on 20 years probation, even though I have never been in trouble with the law in any manner, and got indicted when I was 55. I am also court ordered to attend therapy every week at my expense, and there is no “finish line” to this. You go until they say you are healed, whatever that means. If you tell them you have no interest, you are labeled as being in denial, and you have it even worse. I am not unsympathetic to problems, but to be put through all of this for a one time mistake seems very harsh to me. Even those in therapy with me that actually molested someone have been in there for years. I asked the therapist, is no one allowed to make a mistake? I could see if someone re-offends. That is a sign of a problem, but a one time deal and you are forever a sex offender? Insanity. It’s bad enough being an ex-felon without having this hanging over my head. It makes finding a job nearly impossible. Even if I pass a companies standards, my PO has to give me permission to do the job, and they are beyond strict, as are the therapist. I had one tell me if I were eating dinner out and a family sat down next to me that I was to immediately get up and leave. I seriously asked if she had lost her mind, and was kicked out of therapy. I have never in my life seen anything like this.

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