Ineffectiveness and Unfairness of Sex Offender Registries

A new book by Roger Lancaster, professor of cultural studies at George Mason University, is forcing the review of popular attitudes towards sex offender registries. In the book, Lancaster argues that these registries are not just ineffective in preventing sex crimes, but as California criminal defense lawyers also find, also unfair to the millions of people who are included in registries with barely any violation to their name.

In the book, Lancaster talks of the unfairness of a registry system that prevents sex offenders from living or working within 2000 feet of a school, playground or any other place where children gather under Jessica’s Law. Such restrictions dramatically reduce a person’s chances of living a normal life after incarceration, and defeat any attempt to reintegrate the person into society. According to Lancaster, we should rethink this approach, which resembles techniques of governance in authoritarian or even totalitarian states.”

He also compares the sex offender registry system in the United States with that in Britain, which also requires sex offenders to register themselves. However, in Britain, the number of persons actually on sex offender registries is much more limited, and is a much smaller proportion of the population.

In order to understand how sex offender laws in the United States have run riot, consider this – in the United States, the ratio of registered sex offenders to the general population is 228 per 100,000. In Britain, the ratio is 46 per 100,000. Additionally, in Britain, the majority of offenders are classified as minimal risk, and require low supervision. Information from the registries is closely guarded, and can be accessed only by parole officers, law enforcement officers and other interested parties.

This is unlike in the United States, where anybody can access a sex offender registry, and make uniformed assumptions about a person’s character based on his inclusion in the registry. Further, in the United States, a substantial chunk of sex offender registrants are those involved in relationships simply because one of the persons involved in the relationship was under the age of eighteen.

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