Last year, when rapper Nicki Minaj married Kenneth Petty, the big news was not the nuptials, but the fact that he is on the registry. The world questioned her judgment – as if it is outrageous to marry somebody on the registry. This past week, Petty was arrested for failure to register in California. Again, headlines and more judgment and shaming of Minaj.
Perhaps I’m more sensitive to the issue than most because I’m involved in an organization that advocates for registry reform and on a daily basis, multiple times per day actually, I hear from spouses, parents and children of registrants whose lives are impacted by the registry and whose judgment is continuously put in question as if they too were a suspect in a never-ending investigation.
If you consider what Kenneth Petty was accused of, it’s unquestionably a terrible crime… attempted rape of a 16 year old. But if you dig deeper, you will learn that the crime took place in 1994 – more than 25 years ago! Dig a bit deeper and you’ll learn that he was also only 16 at the time! Dig even deeper and you’ll learn that when his accuser tried to write a letter to the judge to recant her story, she was told that she would go to jail for 90 days if she recanted!
Not to call out Petty, but he happens to have another crime in his history… manslaughter. Completely unrelated to his sex offense and later in life, he was convicted of shooting and killing someone. I’m not judging, but you’d think that killing someone might be more alarming, but that tidbit of information never made the headlines.
While we can’t go back in time, we can certainly live in the present. Today, twenty-five years have passed since the alleged sexual offense and Petty is facing 10 years in prison for failure to register. That’s a lot of time – especially considering it’s more than 3 times as long as his sentence for the underlying offense in 1994. He’s recently married to a successful woman and they had planned to start a family. Plans that could be derailed if Petty is sentenced to prison.
Now I know the research… the risk of serious and persistent sexual crime decreases substantially the longer someone has been sex-offense free in the community. This pattern was particularly evident for high risk sexual offenders, whose yearly recidivism rates declined from approximately 7% during the first calendar year, to less than 1% per year when they have been offense-free for 10 years or more.(1) I also know that the recidivism rates of juveniles is very low, adolescent brains are not as developed as adults and youth who have committed a sex offense are no more likely to commit a future sex offense than other delinquent youth. (2)
So that begs the question; it’s been 25 years, should Petty still be registered?
(1) Hanson, R. K., Harris, J. R., Helmus, L., & Thornton, D. High risk offenders may not be high risk forever. Journal of Interpersonal Violence.2013