Criminal recidivism poses a serious risk to public safety. In the 1990’s, the United States passed a series of laws to counter the sex offender threat to the public. The government solution for the problem of sex offenders was greeted by updates in sex offender registration and notification laws. These registration and notification laws were put into place after various incidents involving sex crimes ended in the death of a child. The exposure surrounding these cases drove the government to make rash decisions in regards to offender registry. Today, these same laws punish all sex offenders, without regards to the nature or circumstances surrounding the crime. Sex offender laws should be modified to fit the nature of the crime.
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Sex offender laws were established by the increasing need to protect the children of the community. Enforcing a more strict punishment for sex offenders was proposed with the intent to protect the children more effectively. Sadly, this misconception has not only proven inaccurate, but it has also robbed sex offenders of their constitutional rights. This theory is based upon the notion that sex offenders are more likely to be repeat offenders than other criminals, which has not been proven. Excessive and punitive punishment is unconstitutional given that in some cases the retribution does not match the crime. The Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994 formalized the practice of registering sex offenders in centralized databases. Megan’s Law, though, requires that sex offender registries be made accessible to the public. Both of these laws stemmed from sex crimes against children, which resulted in the death of the child. Today, the same laws govern sex offenders, regardless of if their crimes involved a child or resulted in the death of the victim. Some registered sex offenders’ crimes did not actually involve the act of sex.
Unfair registration plagues the life’s of many offenders. Dean Edgar Weisart, was convicted of indecent exposure for skinny-dipping with his girlfriend in a hotel pool in 1979 and then required to register more than twenty years later. It also haunts offenders such as Ricky Blackmun, whose family moved to Oklahoma from Iowa for a fresh start after Ricky was convicted as an adult sex offender for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl when he was sixteen. Even though Ricky’s record was expunged in Iowa, he was required to register as a tier III sex offender- the highest level- in Oklahoma until a change in law terminated his duty to register. Registration rolls are also populated by children- adjudicated juvenile offenders who, despite their ages, face the same burdensome registration requirements for certain offenses, as do convicted adults.
The registration also compromises offenders displaced from their homes because of onerous residency restrictions. (Berlin v. Evans, 923). In South Florida, numerous convicted offenders live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway, a large bridge, because there is no community in South Florida where they may reside without violating residency restrictions (Skipp 2010). In Georgia, Anthony Mann, a registered sex offender was prohibited from entering the restaurant he half owned and ran because child-care facilities located themselves within 1000 feet of Mann’s business.
Society has long considered sex offenders as some of the most despicable criminals. Customarily, society has made this apparent by subjecting offenders to “severe sentencing laws” (Quinn et al. 2004). Most recently, laws have included publicly accessible sex offender registries put in place under the façade of promoting awareness of sex offenders. Sex offender registries and notification procedures were also created with the intent of promoting public embarrassment and societal shunning (Blair 2004). Quinn and colleagues (2004) describe this shaming or “branding” as a tool used by society to control delinquent behavior throughout history. This branding is useful for establishing and publicizing boundaries between persons and groups. Registries and notification procedures have been noted as flawed and unsuccessful in what they are set forth to accomplish (Presser and Gunnison 1999, p. 311).
The major premise of sex offender registration and notification laws is that sex offenders are more probable to recidivate than other types of offenders. The Center for Sex Offender Management (2001). Cases studies of sex offender recidivism argued that procedural difficulties, differences in sample size, and changes in follow-up lengths causing most studies to bare inconsistent levels of repeat offenses (Sample 2001). These findings make it difficult to definitively state that sex offenders run a higher risk of recidivism, much less that they deserve the excessive punishment that they currently receive.
Hanson and Bussiere (1998) compiled the evidence of many studies on sex offender recidivism. They concluded that in a sample of 28,972 sex offenders, the likelihood offenses was only 13.4%, while the likelihood to become a reoffender of any crime was only 36.3%. The study found that age and marital status offered predictions on the chances of sex offense recidivism. Chances increased also if the offender had prior sexual offenses, victimized strangers, had an extrafamilial victim, began offending at an early age, had a male victim, or had engaged in various sexual crimes. Sex offenders who committed new crimes that are non-sexual in nature were those most likely to have used force against their victims and less likely to have chosen child victims. Hanson and Bussiere were able to conclude that contrary to popular belief, sexual offenders were not guaranteed to offend again. Even in more specialized studies the recidivism rate very rarely reached more than 40% (Hanson 1998).
Times past have proven that general solutions to national issues as they concern security and safety are not always the best. Today’s sec offender registry laws no longer exist to protect and serve. With the eagerness of our government to calm a fearful public, the justice system has neglected the need to review and modify sex offender registration laws. Government is required to protect and serve the nation. While it is first priority that communities and children are kept safe; the government also has a responsibility to uphold offenders’ constitutional rights.
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