Sex offender registration overkill

On Jan. 1, teenagers in Ohio who commit sex-related crimes will be required to register as sex-offenders. This extension of sex offender notification law is part of a growing national trend.

The rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl by a man twice convicted of sex offenses led state and federal governments to pass laws requiring sex offenders to register with local law enforcement after release from prison. Proponents reason that sex-related crimes are committed by individuals who have more of a propensity for those crimes than people who rob or assault. There is evidence to indicate sex offenders are likely to repeat their crimes if they are not treated.

Communities use these lists to prepare themselves for a sex offender. In Minnesota, the Community Notification Law seeks to “provide adequate notice and information about an offender’s release (so) the community can develop constructive plans to prepare themselves.” When an offender deemed by the department of corrections to be at the highest risk of repeat offense plans to move into a community, local law enforcement officials hold public meetings to disseminate their photographs and information about the crimes.

These registration lists are a violation of sex offenders’ privacy. In several instances criminals who were registered as sex offenders upon their release were threatened and attacked, some severely. By the time sex offenders have re-entered society, they have paid their debt and should, if the government truly believes it runs “correctional” programs, be allowed to live their lives without the stigma associated with their crimes.

Sex offenders the government says are likely to repeat their actions are an indictment of the inability of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate. A just penal system would both punish individuals for their actions and work to prevent future actions.

The system does this in some cases. The parole system is designed to release criminals into stable environments to ensure a relatively smooth re-entry into society. Programs within prisons that educate criminals exist to help them escape circumstances that led them to crime in the first place such as poverty and poor education. These criminals are not branded with a scarlet letter after leaving prison.

Yet sex offenders are forced to publicize their past crimes. This has a severely adverse effect on their ability to rejoin society. Also, with this demand, the criminal justice system abdicates its responsibility to protect society by acknowledging it has not rehabilitated sex offenders, yet is freeing them anyway.

Children in Ohio who make a mistake, perhaps even as small as a momentary lapse in judgment, can now be branded for the rest of their life. Ohio wants to eliminate the basic goal of the juvenile court system: rehabilitation. That rehabilitating sexual offenders is a difficult problem should not lead other states to throw up the white flag and surrender the role of protector to vigilantes.