By Jason Burkos
This short analysis of the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006 and its implementation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seeks to explore the background, philosophical failures and statistics to justify repeal of the AWA. Additionally, there are significant policy recommendations that provide real reforms that provide enhanced community safety while not violating Constitutional principles or denying the ability for former offenders to successfully reenter society. The AWA is a dangerous, destabilizing, retroactively applied law that:
- destroys the successful reentry efforts of offenders
- confuses the public by mixing sexually violent predators (SVP) and non-violent offenders who are placed into Tier 3 due to the age of their victim
- compromises the ability of law enforcement to focus on SVP’s by exponentially increasing the number of offenders mandated to register
- provides a false security by giving the perception of safety while in fact increasing the danger to the community
Essentially, the AWA seriously raises the danger to the community.
AWA was conceived by Congress to provide federally mandated guidelines to various state Megan’s Laws to ensure that certain basic guidelines be followed on a national level. The fear among law enforcement and community groups was that sex offenders (SO) were moving from strict enforcement states to less restrictive states or even falling out of supervision by moving multiple times in order to avoid law enforcement by exploiting loopholes. However, like many laws, the AWA included massive overreaching mandates, implemented Constitutionally questionable enforcement standards and included an inefficient “one size fits all” tier system. Beyond those criticisms, it is extremely expensive and incurs intensive legal challenges, such as the ones in Ohio that overturned the law due to its conflicts with the Ohio Constitution.
The AWA was the next phase in a variety of increasingly draconian sex offender laws, always in response to a high profile case. The stated goal is to protect children by publicly identifying and monitoring convicted sex offenders. However, considering that these laws focus on convicted offenders who have a national recidivism rate of 3.5% (US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics report), how does focusing on convicted offenders protect the victims of 97% of cases – assaults by parents, babysitters, and other individuals who have never been convicted of any crime? The focus, clearly, is on the wrong targets. This law was enacted to give the public the perception rather than the reality of safety.
Ironically, the two key individuals associated with the AWA were both involved in questionable sexual activities. Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL), the primary sponsor of the bill, resigned from Congress when it was discovered that he was sending inappropriate sexual messages to 16 year old boys in the Congressional Page Program. Not surprisingly, Congressman Foley was allowed to resign without charges being filed against him, and he now enjoys a lucrative career as a real estate broker in Palm Beach, FL. John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted, became an advocate for sex offender laws after the brutal murder of his son. However, Mr. Walsh takes his advocacy beyond supervision of sex offenders, and uses his television status to push for laws that on the surface sound effective, but in reality put communities in further danger. Ironically, Mr. Walsh admitted that he had a continuing and willfully illegal relationship with an underage girl. Again, no surprise, he never faced charges. Therefore, the AWA was sponsored by a child molester and advocated by an individual who admits predatory activity against an underage girl. So, who watches the watchers?