By Steve Blow
Let’s face it, we’re more sympathetic to the plights of some than others.
Lost puppies and sad children rank right up there atop the sympathy scale. And at the bottom.
Well, can you think of a group lower than sex offenders?
It’s a tough sell, but a national conference is meeting this week in Dallas with the goal of making things a little easier for those convicted of sex-related crimes.
Hang on! Don’t stop reading. You may not be brimming with sympathy, but the truth is that the reformers have a point. And this doesn't just affect the sex offenders.
Our laws have become expensive and ineffective. In our zeal to protect against sexual predators, we might even be making things worse.
The national conference of RSOL — Reform Sex Offender Laws — began with a social hour Wednesday night. It gets down to business Thursday through Saturday, meeting at Skillman Church of Christ in East Dallas.
About 125 people are expected. Virtually all of them are like RSOL executive director Brenda Jones. They come because of a personal connection.
“I have a family member still serving time,” she said. “One of the things I promised him is that I would make sure he could have a life when he got out.”
The group’s central message is that sex offender registries have become an enormous burden on the individuals required to register, and they yield no safety benefit for the public.
“There’s no statistical evidence that it’s doing any good at all,” Jones said. “And there’s growing evidence that it could actually be doing harm.”
Those on sex offender registries often can’t find a job or a place to live. It drives many into hiding. The pressures can make those with sexual addictions more likely to offend, not less.
As with most things, this began with a good idea: Law enforcement should know where convicted child predators live. But in our zeal to protect kids, the movement went overboard.
The list was made public. Registry was required for more and more offenses. The result: Texas has almost 80,000 people on its sex offender registry.
“It was sold as a parent having the right to know there’s a predator next door. But the vast majority of the people on that list never touched a child, never had an offense against a child and may not have even had a sexual offense,” Jones said.
Even public urination sometimes ends up as a sex crime requiring registration.
Mary Sue Molnar of San Antonio leads the reform effort in Texas. She is founder of Texas Voices, an affiliate of RSOL.
“Several years ago, my son made some really bad choices. He was 22. The girl was 16,” Molnar said. “He would be placed on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life. He would never be able to serve his time and move on with his life, like any other offender.”
California has almost 100,000 on its sex offender list. And its oversight board wants to make a change. In a recent policy report, the board said:
“Research on sex offender risk and recidivism now has created a body of evidence which offers little justification for continuing the current registration system.”
The California report estimated that local governments spend $24 million a year maintaining the sex offender registry. Yet most people never consult it. And most who do take no action as a result.
Nobody is making excuses here for people who commit crimes of any sort. But if safety is what we’re after, we’re not getting our money’s worth.