|Let's study the sex offender panic|
|By Chris Dornin, Retired Statehouse reporter|
Most sex offender laws are named for child murder victims like Jacob Wetterling, Jessica Lunsford or Adam Walsh. These legislative memorials may actually endanger the public. They surely endanger sex offenders.
Eight years ago Lawrence Trant stabbed a registered sex offender and tried to burn two apartment buildings housing seven sex offenders near the State House.
"I hope I've done a service to the community," Trant told the Boston Globe from prison.
Stephen Marshall of Canada killed two sex offenders in Maine in 2006. That's one reason the Maine Supreme Court has deemed its public sex offender registry an illegal retroactive punishment.
The New Hampshire House votes Wednesday on a bill to study the best practices and science regarding sex offenders. SB 277 would set up an 18-member board of experts to give yearly policy advice. The bill sailed through the Senate. All the House witnesses backed it last week, including victim advocates. But the Criminal Justice Committee voted against it 15-0, saying a board like this would be too big and would lack funding.
I would urge the full House to retain SB 277 for summer study, rather than kill it. In state after state, fewer than five percent of sex offenders on parole commit new sex crimes in their first three years out of prison. Research shows that sex offender treatment programs work, and that shaming registries and residency restrictions do nothing to prevent crimes.
A sex offender overturned the Ohio public registry last summer as a retroactive punishment. Interestingly, the rape crisis centers in Texas and Cleveland intervened for the plaintiff.
Margie Slagle, lawyer for the victim advocates, wrote that the Internet list gives a false sense of security and forces registrants to lose their jobs, homes and families.
“Ohio's law is not based on empirical evidence or proven research,” Slagle said in her brief, “but on fear and misinformation.”
Ohio can do better. So can we.
Chris Dornin founded Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform
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