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Are sex offender laws overly punitive?

Criminal charges related to crimes like statutory rape, sexual assault, online solicitation of a minor and indecent exposure can result in an individual facing felony sex crimes charges and lengthy prison sentences and parole terms. What's more, even after an individual has served jail or prison time and completed parole, he or she will likely be required to register as a sex offender.

In New York State, individuals who are required to register with the state's sex offender registry must do so for a minimum of 25 years. While individuals are allowed to file a petition to be removed from the registry sooner, the process is arduous and costly.

While in recent years steps have been taken to reduce the prison sentences and penalties associated with many crimes, the punishments and penalties associated with sex crimes continue to increase. What’s more, for individuals convicted of sex crimes, the punishment continues for years after one has completed the terms of a sentence via inclusion on a sex offender registry.

Proponents of sex offender registry laws argue these laws protect members of the public from sex offenders who may otherwise be allowed to anonymously rejoin society and prey upon children and adults. However, research into sex crimes and sex offenders dispels many myths about sex offenders and proves that current registry laws may in fact do more harm than good.

Many sex offender registries fail to distinguish between or take into account individual crimes, treatment programs completed, age at which a crime occurred and the life circumstances of an offender. This overly broad and one fits all approach lumps all nonviolent and violent sex offenders together, thereby reducing the public's and law enforcement's ability to track the most dangerous sex offenders.

Additionally, the vast majority of sex crimes involving children are perpetrated by a family member or someone they know. Recidivism rates among sex offenders are also low and studies prove that rehabilitation and treatment programs are effective in helping individuals address underlying problems related to their behavior which affords an individual the opportunity to turn their life around. These opportunities, however, are often severely hampered by current sex offender registry laws that put a target on these individuals and impede their ability to find housing, employment and a sense of community.

Source: ACLU.org, "Why Sex Offender Laws Do More Harm Than Good," Debrah Jacobs, 2014

Slate Magazine, "Listed for Life," Jane Shim, Aug. 13, 2014

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