By Mike Bebernes . . . During confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, Republicans hammered away at her record in cases involving sex offenders. Much of that centered around misleading claims about sentences she handed out to people convicted of possessing child pornography. But GOP senators also repeatedly questioned Jackson on her views on sex offender registries, a topic she wrote about as a law student in the 1990s.
In 1994, Congress enacted a law mandating that all states create registries of people convicted of sex offenses and crimes against children. Two years later, it passed what’s known as Megan’s Law, a follow-up bill that made information in those registries available to the public. Since then, a broad slate of new laws has been passed, which expanded the types of crimes that classify someone as a sex offender and imposed strict rules they must meet to avoid further criminal punishment. As of 2018, there were an estimated 900,000 people in the U.S. listed on sex offender registries.
The vast majority of Americans believe sex offender registries make their communities safer, according to polls. A growing body of research, however, suggests otherwise. A long list of studies using decades of data have found no significant evidence that registries prevent sex crimes. Some even indicate that the laws imposed on sex offenders may make them more likely to commit crimes in the future . . . .
Those calling for reform of sex offender registries emphasize that their criticisms do not stem from a desire to be “soft” on people who commit heinous crimes. Instead, they hope to fix an ineffective system that does little to promote public safety while imposing a serious burden on nearly a million people, and often their families too.
Many experts say the main problem with sex offender registries is that they are based on two myths about sex crimes — that sex criminals are uniquely likely to reoffend and that strangers pose the greatest danger to children. In reality, evidence suggests that sex offenders have a lower recidivism rate than most other criminals and that the overwhelming majority of child sex crimes are committed by someone known to the victim. . . .
“This is not a call to ‘go soft’ on crime, it is an encouragement to ‘go smart’ on crime and use data to make informed decisions. This reimagining requires us as a society to confront the uncomfortable truth that those who commit sexual offenses are usually not strangers — they are more likely to be the most trusted figures around us — our loved ones, our babysitters, coaches, teachers and close family friends.” — Meghan M. Mitchell, Kristen M. Zgoba and Alex R. Piquero, Tampa Bay Times . . .
“The registry as we know it today was designed in the wake of a few horrific situations where children were abducted and murdered, and it is for such cases as these that it was intended. The similarity between the perpetrators of those crimes and the nearly 1 million people who are listed on sexual offense registries today is non-existent, with children themselves being registered as young as 9 for childish, inappropriate behavior.” — Sandy Rozek, Tennessean