by Kevin Bliss
New crime registries have been launched around the country, but their value remains to be seen. Research suggests their detriments outweigh their benefits, reveals Jessica Pishko’s article, “Expert: Crime Registries Turn People into Pariahs With ‘Very Little to Lose,’” at TheAppeal.org.
While public sex-crime registries are mandated by federal law, individual states have added new crime registries to the mix. Victims’ rights advocates view them as community protection tools, while critics see them as a way to control people who have already served their time. The registries began in 1994 with then-President Bill Clinton signing a federal crime-control bill into law. It addressed the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in 1989 by requiring states to keep a list of people convicted of sex crimes against children. In 1994, Megan’s Law expanded the registries to be opened to the public, and since then, different registries have been on the rise.
Five states—Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana—have violent offender registries. Tennessee and Indiana have one for methamphetamine. There have been drunken driving registries in many states, registries for violent crimes against animals or children in others, and even career offender registries, such as the one found in Florida.
Sex-crime registrants must register regularly and cannot live in certain areas – close to schools, playgrounds, or daycare centers. They cannot have certain jobs, and their photos and addresses are made public. All of which leave them susceptible to poverty, homelessness, and even vigilantism.
Most other registries do not have similar restrictions, but they still result in negative consequences. For example, some registrants have to pay a fee or risk having their probation revoked.
J.J. Prescott, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School who has studied sex offender registries, told The Appeal that research reveals that registries have some deterrence effect but that any benefit is “more than offset” by the risk of recidivism by listees. “Public registration exacerbates known criminogenic risk factors, such as poor housing, unemployment, social isolation and poverty, and larger public registries appear to result in more rather than fewer sex crimes,” The Appeal noted.
Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, stated: “Locking them up forever, labeling them, and not allowing them community support doesn’t work.”
The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence argues that domestic violence registries give a “false sense of security.” What is needed is not more information about abusers, “but rather help escaping dangerous situations.”
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