Reforming registries for sex-related conduct
Though adopted with good intentions, research has shown that placing individuals convicted of sex-related offenses on registries is largely ineffective and frequently overly broad. Sex-related registries are costly, and resources spent on closely monitoring the every move of individuals who previously committed a sex-related offense could instead be used to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment and are able to successfully reenter their communities. Persons accused of sex-related offenses have some of the lowest recidivism rates, yet they suffer from a pervasive public perception that that they will inevitably engage in the same behavior. Protecting children and adults from sexual abuse and violence requires treating that conduct as a public health matters that is preventable.
Moreover, inclusion on these registries is often for life and hampers rehabilitation by thwarting social service and family support. The children and spouses of individuals who must register also suffer. There are currently 850,000 people required to register. Responses should be individualized, given the diversity of offenses that are treated as “sex offenses,” and diversity of people currently included on registries. There should be primary prevention such as comprehensive sex education and efforts to address the culture of consent that specifically require responses that are outside the criminal justice system.
Congress, local and state legislatures should ensure:
- Registration is limited to adults who pose a high risk of repeating their offenses;
- Access to registries is limited to law enforcement officials and only released on a need-to-know basis;
- Registration data is consistently reviewed to ensure accuracy;
- Young people are not required to register;
- Online sex-related registries are eliminated, and where left in place, that adequate information is included to allow a layperson to understand the conviction;
- Exonerated persons do not appear on the registry;
- Residency requirements for registrants are eliminated; and
- There is substantial support for treatment programs for persons convicted of sex-related offenses, including treatment plans that are individualized to the individual’s learning style and formulated to respond to the individual’s risk and needs.
Congress and the Department of State should repeal legislation that hampers the rehabilitation of people convicted of past sex-related offenses.
The Department of Justice should continue to support and fund the Center for Sex Offender Management, which administers registration standards for sex-related conducted pursuant to the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, 42 U.S.C. §16911 et seq.
Local, state, and federal government should encourage:
- Public education about the nature of sexual abuse, including information that the abuse is generally done by a trusted associate, symptoms of abuse, and how to talk to children about abuse; and
- Collaboration between the community, law enforcement agencies, individuals who have been convicted of sex-related offenses, and prevention groups, and specialized treatment providers to promote successful reintegration into the community.