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Let's study the sex offender panic
By Chris Dornin, Retired Statehouse reporter
Published: 04/10/2012

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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  14. rediculouslaws on 01/25/2014:

    Rudy101, Would love to pick your brain. Have some questions for you.

  15. computerpo on 04/13/2012:

    Rudy101 what color is the sky in your world? In mine it is blue and no court case has invalided sex offender reg in toto...sure there has been tweeking..but it has not been invalidated. Additionally, no state that has sex offender reg has gone back and removed it. In fact, many states, not all, are working to comply with the Adam Walsh Act. Many of those that aren't, like CA, still have their own systems of sex offender reg. But you keep at it...those that point out the flaws are working to improve a system that is still here. Why not work on only applying sex offender reg to those under community supervision? That might actually have a chance. Of course, that opinion is only coming from someone who lives in a world with a blue sky.

  16. Rudy101 on 04/13/2012:

    Sorry computerpo, but your insinuation that information is power, is meaningless. All it means is a person is isolated from the community by policy and law. That is illegal. Oh, and no court has ruled that the registry strips a person of safety and/or security. When that happens, the registry is OVER. You can't force people to choose between their safety and/or security and following the law. It just doesn't work that way. It is funny how you go on and on about GROUPS of people without any regards to INDIVIDUALS. That is the hallmark of a free country, you know that, right? That people are INDIVIDUALS before the law. The idiotic thing is nobody even considers the obvious. The registry is OVER computerpo, because it is beat.

  17. computerpo on 04/12/2012:

    Rudy101 last time I checked criminal convictions were PUBLIC record. We live in a society that allows press access and to print that information, with limited exceptions. The registry makes is easiler for someone to locate the record without checking the court records or waiting for the press to find it and print it. Yes and those without sin cast the first stone, I get that. You can make that arguement. But I also recall Matthew 18:6: "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Sin is sin I suppose... lying is the same a victimizing a child...yeah you can make the argument. The thing is God will sort that all out in the end. For now thou, should the public have access to information about who in their neighboor has victimized someone sexually. Yes, because information is power. The power to maybe be a bit more careful or at least not to put tempation in front of a child molester by asking them to babysit, and keeping them from not only molesting a child but out of prison (again). Yes and Ohio did make a ruling on juveniles and the reg. Juveniles are not subject to automatic life time reg, it makes sense. Juveniles, we hope, can change, easiler than adults, with proper treatment. Ohio is refining its reg...but there is no indication from any of the case thus far that it is going to throw out sex offender reg. Sex offender reg has been around for years. The Adam Walsh Act made an attempt to make it uniform but we have had it for years. No court has ruled it per se a violation of any constitution to date. Is it coming? Doubtful. Will the law be refined/tweaked with each cour case? Sure, it happens all the time. I could see that someday the reg might only contain those who community supervision, which also might mean that sex offenders get extremely long periods of community supervision compared to non-sex offenders. That is happening in the federal system, which authorizes lifetime community supervision for federal sex offenders. The bottomline is Ohio still has sex offender registration at the end of the day and they are tweaking it along the way. I agree with you that corrections.com deserves credit for bring these issues up.

  18. Rudy101 on 04/12/2012:

    Hey computerpo! A couple of responses to your inquiries. There is no RIGHT to know who if anyone has been convicted of a sexual offence or violent offence or ANY offence. If you looked in the U.S. Constitution, you would find no RIGHT to know. However, you do have the RIGHT to find out per the 1st amendment. But that is fundamentally different than a RIGHT to know. Who on the registry is being targeted criminally? Almost all of them. Being forced from one's home IS a criminal act. Being harassed IS a criminal act, as is all the other types of criminal acts against those registered (assaults, vandalism, etc). Another answer to your question: Ohio realized what most of the rest of the country does not, and that is that the registry IS a punishment and therefore the ex-post facto clause applies. They even, in the past few days, ruled it is "cruel and unusual" punishment to apply the law to juveniles for the rest of their life. And if you want to know who has victimized people in the past? Look in the mirror. NOBODY has a halo over their heads. If the truth be told, humanity's largest virtue is minimizing one's own conduct while pointing at others. You want to know who the dangerous people are in the community? ALL OF YOU! Now, with that being said, either have a fair hearing in front of an impartial judge when dealing with people outside of a sentence passed by a court of law OR your registry and registry laws do NOT have to be followed. It is THAT simple...And finally, I would have to commend corrections.com for publishing articles about such difficult subject.

  19. computerpo on 04/11/2012:

    Point of clarification, regarding "A sex offender overturned the Ohio public registry last summer as a retroactive punishment." The Ohio sex offender registry is still around and is still public. The Ohio Supreme Court on July 13, 2011, ruled in State v. Williams it was unconstitutionaly applied to offenders who committed their offenses prior to January 1, 2008, the effective date of Ohio's Senate Bill 10, which was passed to get incompliance with the Adam Walsh Act of 2006. The Ohio registry did not go away. Those who committed their crimes prior to Senate Bill 10 had to register under Ohio's Megan Law. Those who committed their offense after Senate Bill 10 have to register under the new system. The law is still around. The Ohio law was not passed upon fear and misinformation...it was passed to save funding due to passing of the Adam Walsh Act of 2006 (only 13 other states have done so as well). There is something about these regs that gets mixed in all the fog of discussion. The basis idea is that the public has a right to know if their neighbor might be a sex offender...I actually am surprised it hasn't been applied to murders, and any violent offense. I am not saying that makes folks safer, but there is something about folks wanting to know if their neighboor might be a danger to their kids or themselves. Does the public have a right to know or not that is the question? Does it make them safer is another issue. Do we have a right to know who has violated very serious laws? Now regarding those stats about lower rates of recividism... this is a complicated issue, which I see you qualified with the phrase "commit new sex crimes in their first three years out of prison." Some sex offenders are returned to custody for new crimes, just not sex crimes, and some are returned to custody for violating the rules which are deemed necessary to minimize community risk (having access to kids, the Internet, not following treatment, etc.) Citing a low rate and claiming all sex offenders are the same....or at least the same recidivism rate greatly minimizes the issue. There are different rates for different types of sex offenders... Rapist, child molesters, incest offenders, all have different rates... The rates are usually higher for sex offenders whose victim is a stranger, a child, and a male. The rates also are impacted by treatment and supervision. I encourage everyone to check out http://www.csom.org/pubs/recidsexof.html to see what is what.Sex offenders being targeted for vicitimization is not justified. I would like to know the real stats on this as opposed to a few cases. Is it an isolated issue. However, neither is the victimiziation of the innocent. We see folks claim that those cases that were used to jusify the sex offender register were isolated cases and that sexual victimization is not like that. Ironic isn't that we are now seeking isolated cases of sex offenders being victimized to justify changes in the law. If it wasn't right for the victims how can it now be right for the offenders? In short, lets see the numbers of how many sex offenders are victimized out there for being on the reg...I am talking about criminal victimiziation, not the stagmia that comes from doing the crime. I agree that there does have to be some changes made in these restrictions on where folks can live. Professionals, as in corrections, need to have authority to approve or disapprove of a location based upon their expertise and the assessment of risk. Those off supervision should be allowed to live where they may. But to legistate prohibitions with 1,000, 2,000 ft, etc. makes no sense. Study the issue but understand that public wants to know who amoung us has victimized in the past in one of the most traumatic ways possible. Afterall, one indication of risk is past criminal conduct... that is why is is part of sex offender assessment. Man, if I knew I was going write this much I would have put it under the Three C's...LOL

  20. Angry Rachel on 04/10/2012:

    Thank you! People need to realize this is further punishment. CRUEL AND UNUSUAL. Not only is the former offender kept from trying to live a normal life, the family living and supporting the individual suffers the consequences of the registry. So much wasted on fear and false information. Let alone local yokels that feel the need to play Johnny Law or the County Mounty watching every move.

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