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A different kind of life sentence for young sex offenders: pt. 2

In our last post we discussed the release of a recent report by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. The report focuses on the severe implications of registering children as sex offenders for offenses committed as children. We introduced one case, where a young man's has effectively been ruined because of an offense committed when he was only 11 years old.

Other cases detailed in the report include a 15-year-old girl who was required to register for life after taking and disseminating nude photos of herself. Other criminal charges that may result in registration include streaking, public urination and other seemingly harmless offenses.

The justification for sex offender registries is that they allow law enforcement officials and the general public to keep an eye on offenders who are likely to commit another crime. However, this is not borne out by reality.

The estimated recidivism rate of children who commit sex offenses is somewhere between four and 10 percent. That's significantly lower than the 13 percent rate for adult sex offenders and even lower than the national recidivism rate for all crimes, which is 45 percent.

This has the counterintuitive effect of actually undermining public safety. Over-saturating registries with names of children and harmless, rehabilitated people can make it hard to determine who on the list is actually dangerous. Most people would likely agree that there is a big difference between a student who streaks across the field and someone who repeatedly commits violent sex crimes.

Hopefully by calling attention to this issue, juvenile justice advocates can help policymakers enact fair laws that actually protect public safety rather than ruining children's lives under the guise of being "tough on crime."

Source: The Center for Public Integrity, "Report details lives ruined for children put on sex-offender registries," Susan Ferriss, May 1, 2013

Mark J. O'Brien's cases have been featured in:
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