August 13, 2011

Remedy an Injustice: Too many names on sex offender registry

8-13-2011 Wisconsin:

There should be little public doubt about the fallibility of the legal system.

Not only are laws enforced with wide disparity from place to place, they endure dramatic changes over time. With each fragmented, arbitrary addition, their purpose, strength and effectiveness disintegrates, just as a scattered army loses its force.

As the truth of the law is lost, we become increasingly susceptible to injustice. One injustice especially is in dire need of remedy. Its intentions were admirable, but the law has been an utter failure: the sex offender registry program.

An extreme minority of registrants are truly dangerous people who continue offending, showing no signs they've received adequate treatment. And some evidence indicates that registry programs exacerbate conditions that lead to reoffending.

But there are many nonviolent registrants who do not reoffend. In fact, the overall recidivism rate for sex offenders is the second-lowest for any crime.

Still, our protective system is overloaded with nonviolent offenders, and that drains funds that should go toward keeping tabs on the dangerous minority. These programs offer a negligible and dangerously false sense of security in our communities.

Those who make up the enormous chunk of the registry were primarily in their teens or 20s at the time of conviction and their "crimes" were an expression of natural behaviors. Their "crimes" involved no threat, no force, no coercion, manipulation or violence.

They had consensual sexual contact with someone who'd developed past puberty, but was still a minor.

Yet they are placed next to child molesters and rapists on the registry, branded alike for life.

They present no real danger. They might have incredible gifts that will never be shared, beautiful families that will never be formed. They might teach and inspire a future president or Army general.

But often they can't find jobs, let alone ones that suit their unique talents. They have great difficulty developing normal relationships for fear someone may think they are child molesters or serial rapists. Because the public is led to believe such things, these individuals are unjustly scarred and scandalized. They transgressed the law, but a scarlet letter does not belong on their chests.

I want to offer a different way of responding to sexual indiscretions and those who commit such offenses. I hope the benefits will be self-evident.

If those nonviolent people were removed from the registry, it would in no way endanger society. They pose no more a threat than would any random person plucked from a crowd. It may even relieve communities to see that there aren't, as they'd believed, pages and pages of dangerous, prowling sexual predators.

The tax money used to track these nonviolent people might be put toward more treatment facilities that focus on individuals who do threaten our communities -- programs for people suffering from compulsions they are ashamed of, for which they want help without fearing social damnation.

If these plans were developed with genuine care, we could study these cases and derive the sort of qualitative results by which to make significant strides toward eliminating these serious crimes. Consider the potential victims who might be spared irreparable suffering by any small advance in the ability to prevent actual sexual abuse.

This doesn't take into account funds currently put toward welfare programs for those who have work skills but are denied jobs because they are on the registry. They often can't find housing, as few landlords will rent to them. This creates a drag on local government that can't be underestimated.

These are members of our communities who made a young mistake. They shouldn't continue to be isolated and cut off from society, their contributions unfairly shunned. They can't keep being heaped, so inhumanely, with burdens that aren't theirs.

Would we rather let them move on, trying to improve with a job and home, or have them living under bridges, forever disgraced, with the truly dangerous few whispering sickness in their ear? ..Opinion.. of John Aspinwall, a former Solano County resident, resides in River Falls, Wis.


Anonymous said...

If I wouldn't know any better Mr. Aspinwall opines as an FSO himself.
Either way, I couldn't have said it better myself Sir, thank you.I have always pondered the size of the public registry today in 2011.
I could not even immagine what it will be like in 10-15 years. If things don't change, we could be looking at somewhere in the range of 4-5 MILLION people as FSO's.
(of course rough estimate on my part).Always the optimist, I pray that we will NEVER reach that point and some serious, fair, and reasonable changes are made before more have thier constitutional rights burried with them.... I PRAY!

Daniel Goichman said...

Instead of complaining about too many names on the registry do something about it like take half of the people off it as soon as possible besides the disabled and teens. give people hearings so they can start getting off it asap

Anonymous said...

How about making provisions by which all offenders might have an opportunity to be removed once they demonstrate they are no longer a threat??