Sex offender registries do more harm than good

In a column for the Canadian publication, the National Post, Marni Soupcoff writes that sex offender registries in both Canada and the United States (but especially the public registries in the USA) really don’t make much sense. She uses a recent case from New Hampshire to illustrate her point.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the felony conviction of a young man who, at age 18, went online and propositioned a 15-year-old girl (whom he knew) for sex. Because of the conviction, the computer sex crime law dictates that he’ll be on the state’s public sex-offender registry for life. If he’d actually had consensual sex with the underage girl, instead of propositioning her online, he’d have been charged with a misdemeanour and wouldn’t have been placed on the sex-offender registry at all.

Pretty silly indeed.  And Soupcoff points out other major flaws with registries, namely, they’re costly to maintain and they don’t prevent any crimes.

In a Vox article on the subject, writer Dara Lind points out that “(f)ew sex offenders go on to commit another crime,” and “most new sex crime convictions involve people who aren’t registered sex offenders.” Reoffending does happen, unfortunately, but it’s unclear that it would be happening to a much greater degree without registries, or, to put it the other way around, that registries are somehow keeping it in check. A 2009 article in the Economist cites a New Jersey Department of Corrections study that “found that the state’s system for registering sex offenders and warning their neighbours cost millions of dollars and had no discernible effect on the number of sex crimes.” And, as Lind notes, there’s evidence to suggest that registries may inhibit victims from reporting family members, knowing that doing so could impose not only a finite criminal sentence on the offender, but also a lifelong economic and social one, regardless of whether the person is able to rehabilitate himself or herself and turn things around.

Read more of Soupcoff’s column at the National Post website.

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