Group opposes sex-offender registry for youths

Legislation that requires states to publish the names and photos of minors who have been convicted of sex-related offenses in a nationwide public registry is being discouraged by a Washington, D.C.-based group.Some states already include minors as young as 14 in their own statewide sex-offender registries, but legislation known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 is calling for all states to take up the practice for a national registry.

 

States that don’t comply with the act risk a decrease in federal criminal justice funding. Yet, only one state and one tribe have complied completely since Congress the act became law in 2006.

Local lawyers see a problem with lumping minors with adults in a public sex offender registry.

“We’re still hoping that part of the act doesn’t get passed,” said Chris Gardner, chief deputy public defender in San Bernardino County’s Human Services Division.

Research does not support the stance that a minor convicted as a sex offender is going to do the same thing as an adult, Gardner said. Studies show the opposite, and the vast majority of kids don’t reoffend, he said.

“If a kid’s crime is tried in Juvenile Court, where the idea is rehabilitation, it doesn’t make sense for there to be any kind of long-standing history or sex registry,” Gardner said.

Justice Policy Institute recently reissued a report that details the harm that public registries have on minors, a demographic where criminal justice usually aims for rehabilitation.

“It’s extremely detrimental to the youth,” said Nastassia Walsh, a research associate at JPI. “It isn’t proven to improve community safety at all. It can really harm a kid’s chances of having a `normal life.”‘

Being named on a registry can hinder a child’s access to rehabilitative services. They would likely be shunned by peers and ostracized at church, said Walsh, who has no relation to the person for whom the legislation was named.

Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of John and Reve Walsh, was abducted in 1981 from a Florida department store and found murdered 16 days later. Adam’s parents have since become advocates for missing children and have taken up the fight to end child exploitation.

John Walsh is the host of the long-running TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”

In addition to strengthening sex-offender registries, the sweeping Adam Walsh Act plugged loopholes in current federal laws and increased prison terms. So far, only one state – Ohio – and a tribe in Washington have completely complied.

Other states have cited numerous reasons for not complying, including the cost and the need for more equipment, resources and personnel. A Congressional Budget Office analysis from December 2005 reported the act to cost $1.5billion to enact between 2006 and 2011.

Besides cost, California cited other reasons for not complying with the act: statutory barriers, juvenile privacy issues and constitutional privacy protections, according to an April survey conducted by SEARCH, a national consortium for justice information and statistics.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is behind the Adam Walsh Act, estimates there were about 670,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. But about 100,000 are lost in the system.

“In order to help protect our nation’s children, we must improve our current registration system so that we know where all of the convicted sex offenders are,” said NCMEC’s president and CEO, Ernie Allen, in a March presentation to the House Judiciary Committee.

Allen was unavailable to be interviewed about adding minors to sex-offender registries.

Prosecutors say only a limited number of sex-related juvenile crimes in California even qualify for a stay in the Department of Juvenile Justice and publishing in a public registry.

Karen Bell, a deputy district attorney who handles juvenile offenses in San Bernardino County, said she didn’t anticipate there would be much support in the state for the labeling of minors through a public registry.

“I think the reaction of that of the Legislature of California, and certainly the bench and the bar would be very much against it,” Bell said.

 

 

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