September 7, 2011

New Book Says Sex Offender Registries Are Too Harsh

9-7-2011 National:

In a new book called “Sex Panic & The Punitive State,” professor and author Roger N. Lancaster says that sex offender registries are a waste of time and that current punishments for sex offenders in the US are too harsh.

While sex offender registries in the US now collectively list three quarters of a million people, Lancaster argues that many of those listed are being unfairly treated as public pariahs. End up on a registry and you’ll be told where you can and can’t live, and will find it impossible to get a job. While certain criminals may deserve such punishment, he believes there are quite a few who shouldn’t even be on the lists, explaining in a Washington Post interview that registries now include those convicted of sex crimes who “… had consensual relations with near-adults. Others appear to have been falsely accused and accepted a plea bargain. Some were themselves minors who had consensual sex with their girlfriends or boyfriends. A random sample of one state’s listings shows that two-thirds of the registrants were convicted of non-violent first offenses — and their crimes may have involved no physical contact.”

Lancaster cites research that he says proves sex offender laws are ineffective, and says their main achievement has been to engender an unnecessary atmosphere of fear, with parents afraid to let their children play outside because of the false belief that there are predators lurking around every corner. In the same Washington Post interview, he explained his position: “Stories of abduction, rape, and murder by strangers excite the worst fears. But these are exceedingly rare events — comparable to the chances of being struck by lightning. And only a very small percentage of sex crimes are committed by repeat offenders, which does suggest that the registries mislead parents.”

Lancaster thinks parents should be less worried about sex offender registrants, and more concerned that their own children will end up listed on one. ”Young children have found themselves on sex offender registries and not invariably for brutal acts. Minors who had sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends have been labeled sex offenders,” he warns. “Teens have been prosecuted for ‘sexting.’”

While I understand there are likely people on sex offender registries who don’t belong, there’s this part of me that would rather have that than unknown predators who could have access to my children. Lancaster suggests only certain types of sex crimes should land people on these registries, and that they shouldn’t be public. As a mom, though, I do get some sense of comfort knowing that a registry could help me identify someone who should truly be avoided.

What do you think? Is Lancaster right? Are we ruled by unfounded fears and mistakenly catching too many people up in the sexual predator dragnet?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how this book is recieved by the public, yet more importantly, by lawmakers and sex offender management officials. I haven't read the book myself, but I did read some very favorable reviews.
In our arduous struggle in effecting change, it is promising that at least, our voices are being heard by non-registrants. Eventually our society will realize that we registrants are not trying to advocate for pedophilia or child molestatation. Most on the registries WANT to keep our children safe and abhor the mistakes we have made. But reformation and restoration of registrants will never happen as long as there is a PUBLIC registry
and more volumes of laws preventing TRUE rehabilitation allowing us to become productive citizens.