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The unintended victims of sexual crime hysteria

By Sandy . . . It is seldom that the morning newsfeed offers not two but three pieces dealing with the same topic, a topic that piques my interest and warrants some consideration.

Some states structure their sexual offender registry so that a technical violation is punishable by a jail or prison sentence and in some states is considered a new sexual offense. This may be tied in with a violation of sexual offense probation. Granted, when on probation or parole, restrictions are more rigid and expectations of autonomy are fewer, but the question remains: Is incarcerating a person for a year or longer the best solution for a technical violation that involves no new attempt at committing a crime against a person?

In Cumberland County, Tennessee, a 79-year-old man, John, was given a year’s sentence for “. . . technical violations of the sex offender registry law . . .” The media source does not identify what the technical violations were. They could be anything from accidentally being a digit off in a submitted telephone number to moving without registering the new address. But even if it were the later, he didn’t go far; law enforcement apparently had no trouble finding him. At the time of this sentencing, John had already been in jail for three months for a probation violation, which, as best as I can decipher the verbiage, was for the same offense. Tennessee imposes lifetime community supervision—probation– on a significant number of registrants, and failure to comply with registry requirements can be charged as a probation violation. Further investigation shows that John’s one sexual offense conviction was in 2015 for possession of illegal images.

A case in Albany, New York, raises even more concerns. Jason, age 43, the registrant in this case, has been sentenced to 28 months imprisonment for “. . . failing to update his sex offender registration information.” When released, he will serve five years of post-release supervision. His one prior conviction was in 2011 for receiving child pornography—different language meaning essentially the same as the Tennessee case, possession of illegal images consisting of child pornography. This new conviction is for failing to update his residency address on the sexual offender registry. According to the media source, in New York this conviction, for a registrant, is a new crime as it is in violation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

Finally, a 43-year-old Coldwater, Michigan man has been sentenced to from 17 months to ten years for parole violations and from 17 months to four years for not complying with the sexual offender registry. Travis was given an additional sentence, to run concurrently, of 16 months to two years for not complying with reporting duties. His sexual offense conviction was in 2020 for 2nd degree criminal sexual contact.

NARSOL has frequently said that we are not attorneys and we do not give legal advice. There is one bit of legal advice, however, that we have been known to give: If it’s the law, obey it. If you are on probation, your responsibility is to follow the terms of your probation. If you are on the registry, you are responsible for knowing the registry requirements for your state and following them. If you believe they are excessive—such as counter-productive residency restrictions—or illegal—such as sheriffs requiring Halloween yard signs without legal authority—beg or borrow if needed and find an attorney.

When individuals do not follow supervision requirements or registration stipulations, they must expect  consequences. But shouldn’t the consequences fall to the person who is in violation rather than to the state, its taxpayers, and the innocent?

Jason and Travis are mid-forties in age. With any luck, they were working; they were earning, supporting at least themselves and quite possibly families. They were renting or buying, spending, contributing to the economy. They were paying taxes. And now? How much does it cost to incarcerate a man for a month? A year? Ten years? Will their families need public assistance now? Lose their homes? How much more is lost over and above their wages and all that a wage-earner contributes?

And what of John? He is 79 years old. In addition to the base cost of incarcerating him for a year, what are his medical needs? Is there an elderly wife at home who can manage—or not—without him?

Whatever lessons these incarceration terms are intended to teach, would it not be reasonable to try a few months instead of a year, two years, possibly ten years? John’s criminal record shows that this is his third conviction for registry and supervision infractions, and were it not for his age, a year’s sentence might be appropriate. Perhaps the question in his situation is will the cost of his incarceration be offset by what he learns in a year behind bars.

The criminal records of both Jason and Travis indicate that these convictions for parole/registration violations (Travis) and failing to update registration information (Jason) are the very first of the sort that either of them have accrued. Would not a few months in the county jail be a reasonable and much more cost-effective attempt at correction? A second, more subtle concern that must be raised in connection with registration violations is this: Failing to comply with registry requirements is an offense applicable to no category of crime except those that trigger an obligation to register. This is an often-overlooked fact among the plethora of discriminations that make up criminal registries.

Is it not time to give these issues some serious thought?




Sandy Rozek

Written by 

Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.

11 Thoughts to “The unintended victims of sexual crime hysteria”

  1. AvatarNY Level 1

    Any violation of the registry regime short of a crime (and not the “crime” of violating the registry regime) should be at most be a civil citation akin to parking or speeding tickets.

    Advocacy orgs should not promote the notion that jail time is an appropriate punishment for technical violations of an ostensibly non-punitive regime.

  2. AvatarPip

    Sandy, I wonder if in certain states if a registry or parole violation in counted as a sex offense so that recidivism rates are inflated.

  3. AvatarCherokeeJack

    My issue is this. The courts keep saying the registry is NOT punishment like probation is, but a violation of any rule on both probation and registry compliance, wait for it, both send you to jail and possibly prison, which is in fact punishment. How does the Supreme court not see, realize, agree, rectify or know that to be true?

  4. Avatarmut

    they used to punish slaves for refusing to work or escaping …

  5. AvatarStephen

    States make laws that can’t always be applied retroactively. By making failure to register a registrable offense they circumvent this.

  6. AvatarJL

    In Colorado, in one instance, a technical violation of probation was four years to life in prison. He would be released when he completes a treatment program–which is not available–so he is two years past release date. This person has not committed any violation related to the sexual offense. After release, parole will be lifetime supervision.

    1. AvatarPhil lovato

      ..if the registry is not punishment,my sentence is served, then I am not on probation and thus I am not obligated to tell anyone where I am going, what I am doing, etc.
      Now the question is am I on probation without being told I’m on probation?

  7. AvatarAllen

    State has task, fails, blames people it failed for failure. It is to rehabilitate people to fit back into society. Failing, instead of holding itself accountable blame others. Pass laws restricting + controlling ones they failed. Fact laws exist is public admission of failure. Is fundamentally + morally wrong, cruel + unusual punishment

  8. AvatarLarry T

    It’s a life sentence. I don’t care how you look at it. The courts use legal jargon and obscure precedent to circumvent any law or right that you may think protects you. This is a police state and it’s time every one realizes it.

  9. AvatarSean Bloodworth

    In my state, NC, every county does things differently. For example, the law says I have to list my “internet identifiers” and my county says that is my email address. I have a friend in another county who has to list all of his usernames for ANY account he has and his email address.

    1. AvatarScott

      Its almost as bad as The Salem Witch Hunts.

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