November 12, 2014

Does the Sex Offender Registry Protect Children? Critics Say, 'Think Again'

11-12-2014 Maryland:

Of the more than 8,000 people listed on Maryland’s sex offender registry, the vast majority have never been convicted of touching a child or assaulted another person.

Instead, the registry lists those who have urinated in public or engaged in prostitution. Critics insist the registry has lost its purpose and is doing little to protect our children.

At the dead-end of a county street Lawrence Howard has made his home. Howard is a 38-year-old father who’s loved by his family and feared by his community.

He hustles odd jobs to support his family, but can’t find an employer that will hire him. It’s not exactly the life he'd envisioned growing up. At 19 his life took a troubled turn. He’d fallen in love with a 15-year-old. On the day of their courthouse wedding Howard earned both a wife and a warrant.

“I mean I had people tell me, ‘you're dating jailbait’ but, I don't know, I heard that all the time when I was younger,” Howard said.

“If I'd of known all this I’d had to put it to the side.” Police had charged Howard with the statutory rape of an underage woman who had become his wife.

Howard says he was speechless. “I didn't feel like I was doing nothing bad,” Howard said. “It didn't feel like I was molesting somebody. She was as big as I was.”

Before long he pleaded guilty and was placed on probation, ordered to register as a sex offender. It meant Howard’s picture would be posted on Maryland’s Sex Offender registry, along with where he lives, what he drives and when he moves.

Suddenly strangers all knew him and neighbors hated him. “Everyday we'd get our door kicked in,” Howard said. “We called the police and the police said, ‘well, you know why they're kicking in your door...?’"

Soon, the online registry was taking a toll on his children. One said, “When I was in fifth grade…friends wouldn't come over." As a sex offender, Howard is banned from stepping foot on school property, even the school where his own children are enrolled. “I don't even like to go there to pick up my kids,” Howard said. “I went to field day there once and the principal chased me down the hallway.” “It kinda sucks,” Howard’s daughter says.

“He couldn't go to field trips and stuff like that. It really hurt me." Critics complain that the registry has become so broad that, no longer, is it for the worst of the worst. Some have made the list by urinating in public, or dabbling in prostitution, and three out of every four on this list are on there for life.

A Maryland support group is now fighting to reform the state's registry. Its members believe the registry has grown too large to be effective. But Adam Rosenberg, the director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, says while far from perfect, the registry IS keeping children safe.

“I think there's no question that when you put a bright line in the sand,” Rosenberg said. “Unfortunately, there will be cases and situations where people that fall too close to it and make people feel uncomfortable but I think that’s going to happen with any law."

This summer, that support group won a key decision from Maryland’s highest court which ordered the state to remove almost 1,200 names from the registry. Their crimes happened before the registry went into effect. ..Source.. by

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