Monday, May 6, 2013
By Jessica Machetta
JEFFERSON CITY - Legislators have been working for several years on restructuring the state's sex offender registry, saying it's unnecessarily penalizing many people who are not a risk to society. One group speaking out against a bill that's been taken up and passed by the House is Missouri Kids First.
"With the sex off registry, our opinion of Rep. Hinson's bill is that it just goes too far," says spokeswoman Emily Van Schenkof. "It goes too far and there are actually a number of troubling elements in it. We really recognize that there are some people on the sex offender registry that don't belong it ... my concern is that ... this bill goes really far in letting a lot of people off that list who really are absolutely a public safety risk."
She adds that the bill relies heavily on risk assessment in determining whether someone can have their name and information taken off the publicly accessed registry. She says risk assessment can be a useful tool in determining whether someone will re-offend, but she says it's not fool-proof.
Rep. Dave Hinson of Washington's bill would exclude from the sex offender registry website the names and information of juveniles, first-time offenders who commit felonious restraint or kidnapping of a nonsexual nature, and those under federal protection. The bill has been sent to the Senate, where it has not been placed on the calendar for debate.
"I have a bit of frustration with this bill, bc there's a way to do this that addresses legitimate public policy concerns but also protects the public safety and safety of our children," she says, "and this bill just doesn't do it so I'm puzzled as to why this bill has moved through the House."
Missouri Kids First and the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence both supported a different measure in the House, Van Schenkof says, which was sponsored by Rep. Don Phillips of Kimberling City.
"Rep. Don Phillip's bill passed out of the Rules Committee," she says, "but the house chose not to take up this bill and took up Rep. Hinson's bill instead. Rep. Phillips spent about three years to come up with a sex off bill that people could live with ... it has the support of MCADSV, it has the support of my group, it was federally compliant; the problem is was that sex offenders didn't like it."
Hinson's bill would require that a public website include only the names and information for sexual offenders who are unclassified or Tier III offenders. The names and information of Offenders Pending Classification, Tier I, and Tier II offenders would not be on the public website. Those offenders would be on a separate list available only to law enforcement agencies.
The measure would exempt from the registry those convicted of second- or third-degree sexual misconduct, first- and second-degree promoting obscenity, furnishing pornographic material to minors, public display of explicit sexual material, coercing acceptance of obscene material, non-sexual child abuse, felonious restraint or kidnapping of a nonsexual nature when the victim was a child and the offender was the parent or guardian, and a sexual offense involving sexual conduct where no force or threat of force was directed toward the victim and the victim was an adult, unless under the custodial authority of the offender or the victim was 18 years of age or younger and the offender was no more than five years older than the victim at the time of the offense.
The bill would also changes the victim's age from 13 to 12 years of age or older for an offender to be eligible after two years to file a petition for removal from the registry. Currently, an offender who was 19 years of age or younger at the time of the offense and the victim was 13 years of age or older at the time of the offense and non-physical force or threat of physical force was used in the commission of the offense, may file a petition after two years for removal from the registry.
By Shana Rowan
The horror that Megan Kanka’s parents endured in the loss of their young daughter is unfathomable. Admirably, they are dedicating much of their lives to preventing what happened to Megan from happening to anyone else’s child. Unfortunately, their recent effort at modernizing Megan’s Law (“Kanka family seeks updates to exclude sexting between children, increase failure to register penalties,” April 15), ignores the research conducted on sex crimes since the initiation of the registry notification law named for their daughter.
Some of their proposals make sense, such as increasing the ratio of parole officers to registrants, as the entire community benefits from compliant sex offenders. It also makes sense to prevent teenagers from being put on the registry for “sexting.” But given that teenagers re-offend at lower rates than adults and show high receptivity to treatment, why limit this reform to “sexting”? The vast majority of juvenile offenders deserve a second chance, without the life sentence of the registry.
Human Rights Watch released the compelling report “Raised on the Registry,” last week, which exposes the far-reaching negative consequences of forcing juveniles to publicly register as sex offenders. Ranging from families forced to live apart, lifelong stigmatism for offenders convicted as pre-teens, inability to provide for their families due to lack of employment to self-harm and suicide in several cases, the ramifications of public registration for juveniles are extensive and severe. Any serious modernization of Megan’s Law must include a reassessment of placing juvenile offenders on the public registry.
Proposing that sex offenders who fail to register should receive automatic prison sentences violates the principle that a punishment should fit the crime. A 2010 report by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found no correlation between failure to register and sexual recidivism. Should this proposal become law, offenders could face a tougher sentence for missing a paperwork filing deadline than the original offense that put them on the registry in the first place, and New Jersey taxpayers will foot the bill for unnecessary incarceration. This money would be far better spent on prevention and public education initiatives to help parents become more aware of child sexual abuse which, in a vast majority of cases, is committed by someone the child knows — not a stranger on the registry.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of Megan’s Law next year, we at USA FAIR (Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry) share the Kankas’ goal that now would be a good time to reassess the registry and modernize it based on the extensive research we now have that did not exist in 1994.
In the aftermath of Megan’s murder, her parents declared on their foundation’s website that “Every parent should have the right to know if a dangerous sexual predator moves into their neighborhood.” Megan was tragically murdered by a depraved individual with a prior conviction for a violent sexual assault that involved the abduction of a child. Certainly, any parent should be alerted if such a predator moves into their neighborhood.
However, over the last two decades, the registry has morphed into the scarlet letter of the internet age, posting online information of former offenders who are neither violent nor predators and pose little risk of reoffending.
USA FAIR does not oppose the sex offender registry. We do, however, strongly believe that public notification should be applied only to the truly dangerous, because of the life destruction that can result from being so marked. As family members of registrants, we know this destruction all too well, as we frequently suffer the collateral damage of the registry, which can include the harassment of a registrant’s children, the loss of employment of a spouse and the break-up of families due to registry restrictions.
- We at Sex Offender Issues do not believe in any online registry for anybody. The registry needs to be taken offline and used by police. It's nothing more than an online hit-list for vigilantes now.
The good news, over the last 20 years, is that extensive studies contradict the myth of high sex-offender recidivism. Contrary to still widely held beliefs, sex offenders have one of the lowest re-offense rates in the criminal justice system. (These low rates existed both before and after Megan’s Law.) And we have learned that those low re-offense rates drop even further with years of offense-free tenure in the community and advancing age.
Further, we have identified which subsets of offenders do have a higher risk of reoffending, such as pedophiles with multiple child victims and sex offenders with other non-sexual crimes on their rap sheet.
Let’s modernize the public registry by making it smarter, by using the vast body of research to stay true to the Kankas’ founding principle of targeting the truly dangerous — while allowing the majority of former offenders to continue rebuilding their lives as good citizens and providers for their families.
Shana Rowan is executive director of USA Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry (usafair.org).
I am curious as to the thoughts of the community on laws that apply to people CONVICTED of a sex crime that limit behavior or conduct as opposed to laws that govern RSOs. As someone who is coming off the registry next year - I'm trying to understand how a law that was passed after my conviction can apply to me without being ex post facto. I understand the interpretation of some courts that being on the registry is an "administrative" action (I don't agree, but understand that concept), but once I'm off the registry - can a law passed after my conviction still apply to me (ex. anyone convicted of a sex offense is not allowed in a public park). Seems that those laws could only apply to someone CONVICTED after the date of the law. Am I wrong to be concerned about whether these laws will still apply after my RSO time is done?