Okay, here is some weekend reading to sink your teeth into. It’s an article from the Economist:
“Unjust and Ineffective: America has pioneered the harsh punishment of sex offdenders. Does It Work?”
The short answer is “No.” We are putting people on sex offender registries who do not belong there at all. People who peed in public. Streakers. Johns. Teenagers who had consensual sex. The registry does not discriminate between violent pedophiles and once-horny young folk who are now 30-year-old housewives, like one of the people profiled in the piece. Wendy Whitaker was 17 when she had sex (at school — dumb!) with her underage-by-three weeks boyfriend. She was arrested for it and her lawyer told her to plead guilty to get it over with. She did. But it was never over.
One of the plea bargain conditions was that she check in regularly with her probation officer. When she didn’t, she was thrown in jail for more than a year. She finished probation in 2002 but she’s still on a public registry that does not explain what she did. So, as notes the article, “it looks like she did something terrible to a helpless child.”
In all, according to the Economist, about 5% of the people on the sex offender registries pose a serious risk to children. Usually, when not in jail, these people end up wearing ankle bracelets. But when you pull up one of those Sex Offender Maps — really easy to do on the Web (and now on the iPhone!)– it looks like wherever you turn, there’s another child rapist. Which, of course, leads to more fear on the part of parents. That is understandable. Our pig-headed insistence on lumping everyone together on these lists and never taking them off is not. Especially because — get this: “Registering sex offenders and warning their neighbors cost millions & had no effect on the number of sex crimes.”
No effect. One more quote from The Economist, which says that the sex offender laws, “get harsher and harsher. But that does not necessarily mean they get better. If there are thousands of offenders on a registry, it is harder to keep track of the most dangerous ones. Budgets are tight. Georgia’s sheriffs complain that they have been given no extra money or manpower to help them keep the huge and swelling sex-offenders’ registry up to date or to police its confusing mass of rules. Terry Norris of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association cites a man who was convicted of statutory rape two decades ago for having consensual sex with his high-school sweetheart, to whom he is now married…. “We spend the same amount of time on that guy as on someone who’s done something heinous.’”
From a Free-Range standpoint, it is appalling that these sex offender registries make it seem as if children are unsafe on any street. From a humanitarian viewpoint, it is appalling to think of our government is not ready to revamp the whole thing. Kids — and grown ups caught peeing in public — would all be safer. — Lenore