“As a crime of omission, each failure to report ordinary life events is an opportunity for registrants to commit a new felony.”
Over the last two decades, registration for sexual offenders in the US has become the law of the land. It seems intuitive that tracking known sexual offenders should reduce sexual abuse, but with data indicating that sexual offense recidivism (PDF) is much lower than widely believed and as many as 95% of arrests for sexual abuse are first time offenders (PDF), there are legitimate controversies about the sex offender registry, as well as valid questions about how efficacious it is to register and track known sexual offenders (PDF).
A growing body of research (PDF) indicates sexual offender registration is not very effective in reducing sexual offending. There are persuasive arguments that the registry results in more harm than good (PDF), especially for juveniles (PDF). A number of organizations have been particularly critical of registration for juveniles (PDF), most recently Human Rights Watch. David Prescott wrote about juvenile registration in a recent SAJRT blog. Some scholars suggest the sex offender registry is not making society safer but, rather, is the misguided result of government abdication to moral panic.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires strict registration requirements and includes severe penalties for failure to register (FTR). Many states are not in full compliance with SORNA, in part because of the burdensome cost of compliance and, perhaps, because the classification system required by the Adam Walsh Act is not supported by research (PDF). Still, significant public resources are expended to ensure compliance with registration. But, the question remains: is FTR actually a risk factor for reoffending?