New Report Argues Registering Juvenile Sex Offenders Does More Harm Than Good

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A new report released by Human Rights Watch examines the impact of registering juveniles in sexual offender databases.

Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the U.S.” argues that forcing youth sex offenders to be listed on such databases has a multitude of negative implications that may impede a young person’s ability to reform behaviors and engage in normal social activity. Sometimes, the report states, the restrictions on where a young sex offender may live, go to school and work are so severe that some juveniles are driven to commit suicide.

According to the report, there is no “conclusive evidence” suggesting that registering young sex offenders reduces reported rates of sexual abuse. Furthermore, the authors of the report state that constant police monitoring and notification policies that require a young person to divulge their sexual offense histories are many times unnecessary, since the populations tend to have among the lowest levels of re-offending.

“Under a raft of U.S. public safety laws enacted over the past 20 years, children found guilty of a wide range of behaviors prosecuted as sex offenses not only serve time in prison or juvenile detention, but afterwards are condemned to decades or even a lifetime of stigma and discrimination as an adult,” the report reads. “But sex offender registration laws, especially when applied to youth sex offenders, do little to further the public safety objectives for which they are designed.”

Even after young sex offenders are released from prison, their “punishments” continue, the report states. Mandatory notification laws ensure that a youth sex offender will have fewer employment, education and housing options than others. The report makes note of a youth sex offender from Texas, whose parole conditions barred him from owning computer or photography equipment, or even socializing with people that had children without written officer consent. Under the so-called “Condition X” parole, he and his property may be subjected to police searches, at any time and without a warrant.

Despite these harsh restrictions, researchers say that young people with sex offenses had generally low rates of recidivism, with a meta-analysis determining that young sex offenders had recidivism rates of just 7 percent; comparatively, adult sex offenders had average recidivism rates of 13 percent, while the national rate of recidivism for all criminal offenses averaged out at 40 percent.

The authors of the report urge legislators on the state and federal level to amend laws to exempt juvenile sex offenders from registration databases, community notification enforcement and residency restriction policies unless “evidence-based research demonstrates that such requirements provide a significant, measurable improvement in public safety that outweighs the harm to former youth sex offenders and their families.”

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