Friday, March 29, 2013

Do Sex Offender Registries Belong in a Free and Just Society?

Original Article


By Gina Luttrell

In the continuing madness out of Steubenville, Walter Madison, the attorney for [name withheld], is appealing the “You’re so obviously guilty it’s painful” verdict in the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Why? Because he believes that adding [name withheld] to a lifetime sex offender registry is unjust.

The question of whether [name withheld] deserves to be in the already-existing sex offender registry is a different beast. The interesting question is whether or not sex offender registries should exist at all. My thought is that government-sponsored sex offender registries are unjust, but in a free society there would be no way to prohibit a privately-run registry. However, it is highly likely that such a registry would be more just than the system currently in place.

Government-run Registries are Unjust

You do your crime, you do your time.” Typically an adage that refers to the fact that you can’t avoid punishment for wrongdoing, this phrase also suggests something we all believe to be true about punitive justice: there is a beginning and an end to a punishment. However, “paying your debt to society” doesn’t end when you leave the prison walls. A criminal record follows you, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find employment and, with such, improve your life after incarceration. This contributes to a cycle of poverty and, for many people, results in repeating criminal activity because there are few if any other options.

Sex offender registries exacerbate this problem. Not only does the registration stay with the perpetrator for the rest of his or her life, sex offender registries are public documents. There are areas of society that registered offenders are not allowed to go. The problem compounds even further when one considers the kinds of acts that can land people on government sex offender registries: urinating in public, streaking, and prostitution or paying for sex.

This certainly does not constitute “justice.” Even under a punitive justice system, punishment must fit the crime. With compulsory sex offender registries that do not expire, criminals “do time” for the rest of their lives. Every penalty is a life penalty. It is the modern-day equivalent of human branding.

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