“Sex offender registries don’t make us any safer; abolishing them would”

By Emily Horowitz . . . Watching the Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, I was struck by how Republican senators pounced on the judge’s thoughtful, considered, and mainstream sex offense sentencing. My research examines why our sex offense policies are based on fear-driven myths and how excessive criminal-legal responses do not genuinely and effectively address sexual violence — and do create new harm. And at the time, based on this knowledge, I wrote about the spectacle, where politicians like Josh Hawley accused Jackson of “endangering our children” and not “protecting the most vulnerable,” while those voting in her favor were branded “pro-pedophile” by the likes of Margorie Taylor Greene.

The message was clear: Supporting sex offense policy as it exists on the books is the same as supporting sexual violence, not caring for children, and, as in Salem, the equivalent of being someone who sexually offends.

Since 1994, ostensibly in the name of public safety, legislators passed sweeping federal, state, and local laws imposing onerous requirements and restrictions on people who have completed sentences for sex-offense convictions. On pain of further punishment and incarceration, these provisions require their names’ inscription on registries easily consultable by the public, notification of their moving into a new community, and restrictions on residency, travel, work, and presence. In practice, these burdens fail to reduce recidivism while subjecting those on them to never-ending state surveillance; even after sentence completion, not adhering to the myriad of complex and ever-changing rules, such as failure to update personal information to law enforcement, can result in reincarceration. An example: A 62-year-old, last convicted of a sex offense in 1989, and off probation since the mid-1990s with no sexual re-offense, received two years in prison for failing to update his registration in 2020.

For almost three decades, the Sex-Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as SORNA, has subjected millions with sex-offense convictions to a period or even a lifetime of being openly named, shamed, and essentially banished from society.

As I argue here, and in greater detail in my forthcoming book, From Rage to Reason: Why We Need Sex Crime Laws Based on Facts, Not Fear, the experiences of those convicted of sex offenses starkly reveal what happens when our society gets drunk on punishment. In my work, I focus exclusively on the post-sentence, public, and specialized punishments to which those convicted of sex offenses are subject. I do not question the need for them to be held accountable or to be prosecuted in the criminal legal system. Those decisions have their place, but they are not the focus of my work. What I address, instead, is the enhanced and extraordinary civil and criminal punishments for this group of people beyond the already extensive range of collateral consequences faced by others with criminal histories.

Public and political support for registries remains high. There is little evidence that attitudes have been impacted by a growing body of research showing that public registration, community notification, and residency restrictions do not decrease the incidence of sexual offense. Rates of sexual re-offense have been low both before and after registries, and sex offenses have lower recidivism than almost all other crimes. Further, decades of data consistently show that the majority of sex offenses involve non-strangers and those without prior sex-offense convictions. In other words, there’s scant proof that sex offender registries make us any safer.

Read the rest of Emily’s piece here at Inquest.

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5 Thoughts to ““Sex offender registries don’t make us any safer; abolishing them would””

  1. AvatarTim in WI

    If indeed ” level of dangerous” was rejected by the Rehnquist Court as to the intent of the Act ( Smith V Doe 03) what makes her believe “public safety” could result from the adoption of the electronic registration regime. Identifying the dangerous person in proximity is precisely invented to put affirmative restraint upon potential interpersonal attack. That is to say in a prophylactic way. Through informed circumvention, it was thought the SOR database would impact recidivism rates. However the database and associated infrastructure has enabled far more crimes than it has circumvented. We see an avalanche of evidence of this fact especially in terms of human sexploitation. Many many kidnappings have occurred that were in fact wholly enabled by the power of the internet! Never before in the history of man, had a bad actor on one side of pond or nation been able to groom a victim clear on the other side of the pond or nation at will. The internet made “Pimpin” more possible, popular and profitable and certainly enabled expanded networks to operate in ways never before possible.
    American telephone networks didn’t suffer the incessant robot dialers it does today with scam ad nauseam are evidence of lessor evils. Americas head first dive into the internet age was totally irresponsible with respect to liberty and we will suffer it.

    1. Avatarw

      Cloud computing
      Social media
      Internet of things

      Basically they’re putting the tools for spying and mass surveilance into people’s hands and lives and watching the experiment unfold, all the while selling people on the bells and whystles and youtube.


      So you have to back away. Resist.
      Do without.

    2. AvatarTim in WI

      Yep, domestic surveillance, the alternative purpose stated in ruling after ruling, to assist law enforcement. But if you affect a police state dominated by popularity against disfavored groups it soon becomes a populist crap show. Precisely what we see today.

  2. AvatarMrT

    Registration and the quarterly/annual information updates/or change of info such as new job, or housing and the time frame that it must be completed, in my opinion is a forceful waiver of 5th amendment right. You are compelled to report your changes, and could subject you to further punishment for “failure to register.”
    Why should someone be compelled to provide statements against themself, if let’s say you didn’t report your change within the time limit?

  3. AvatarRD

    Why stop with Sex Offender Registry to keep the public safe? Let’s take public safety further and have a Mental Illness registry. Wouldn’t that help keep the public safe? How about a drug addiction registry since drugs are mind altering and addicts could cause harm to others? A DUI registry..…. How about in the 1980’s we could have had a a homosexual registry (does anyone remember the fear mongering associated with the AIDS epidemic? I do. I lived it. It was terrible!! These things that I mentioned would be cruel and unusual punishment and cause people to look at someone as less than human. SOR is no doubt extended punishment, it’s crippling and possibly be a lifetime sentence. What I have read and learned is the laws have expanded so drastically, described in one article as sex crimes on steroids, our children, our society are in danger of destroying their lives and they nor parents are even aware of the danger is there. We know the dangers of drugs, DARE at least made children and Parents aware of the dangers of drugs. The conversation of sex this day and time in our schools is safe sex and an emphasis on sex identity and not nearly enough discussion on dangers of what is a sex crime the broadness of the definition and how it can destroy a child’s life, a young adult’s life, an adult’s life. I am not tech savvy but I know today’sTechnology has provided children and young adults and adults with a lifeline that can be good but it can also have a noose attached to it, can become an extreme danger to them and we hear nothing in public discussion or education in teaching our kids. .

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