By Tom Kara
It’s rare to find a progressive trend in our Republican-dominated legislature, but their recent effort (House Bill 301, PDF) to downsize Missouri’s “sex offender registry” is laudable, even as Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto is perplexing.
Registering “sex offenders” (far too broadly defined) is based on the questionable idea that they are more likely to offend once released — even though a U.S. Department of Justice study (PDF) of criminal recidivism rates showed many convicted of sex-related offenses had lower rates of re-arrest compared to other criminals.
We don’t require armed robbers or other felons to register on a public list; rather they serve their sentences and (hopefully) re-integrate into society. And that is the main problem with registering “sex offenders.” Branding all of them for life can only make it more difficult to become normal members of society upon release.
Indeed, being publicly labeled a “sex offender” could conceivably spur some to live up to the heinous title hung forever around their necks.
While a certain percentage of criminals will re-offend, we need to take a hard look at the utility of the “sex offender registry” experiment.
Even though Nixon’s veto of this attempt to downsize the list was not overridden, the legislature, the voters and Nixon should continue to look for better ways of encouraging those who made big mistakes to start a new and better life after prison.
Perpetual, public shaming is not one of them.