NARSOL Attorney Paul Dubbeling this week attended a symposium sponsored by the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which brought together state officials, reform advocates, and researchers to discuss the impact of residency restrictions in Minnesota. Patty Wetterling, mother of Jacob Wetterling, gave the keynote address while renowned researcher Jill Levenson led off the event with a detailed presentation of research findings showing that residency (and other such restrictions) are simply ineffective in reducing recidivism and often cause significant and long-term harm.
Since the Jacob Wetterling Act first brought registries to the national level, Patty Wetterling has become a staunch opponent of the increasingly harsh restrictions imposed by states and municipalities around the country. As she points out, supported by the research of Jill Levenson and others, these restrictions are antithetical to their espoused goal of “public safety” while at the same time managing to seriously impair reintegration and rehabilitation of persons convicted of reportable offenses.
Surprisingly and optimistically , the State of Minnesota (at least its Department of Corrections) agrees. Mr. Mark Bliven, Director of the Minnesota Department of Corrections Risk Assessment Unit, shared his view that residency restrictions were counter-productive and actively participated in discussions aimed at limiting new restrictions and reforming existing ones. The mantra of the symposium, from all participants, is the need for evidence-based solutions to the issues of community risk and reintegration/rehabilitation.
After the speakers concluded, Paul had the opportunity to meet with Professor Eric Janus, director of the Sexual Offense Litigation and Policy Resource Center, to discuss continuing to build the Center’s database of case law and litigation materials. It is hoped that within the next year the Center will have a complete resource library of current cases and can begin connecting litigators and providing litigation assistance on multiple issues. In addition, Paul met with Alison Feigh, program manager of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, and with Minnesota state officials to discuss ongoing reform efforts and strategies for reform.
Conference attendees generally recognized that registry issues are sensitive and subject to fear-mongering and irrational responses. In the end, reform is a political challenge. But, as the conference made clear, we are entering an era where the actual facts are no longer reasonably debatable. Now we must fight to make facts matter.