Juvenile Sex Offenders Registered for Life?

By Zach Schalk
September 28, 2010 11:11 PM EDT

Sex offender registration may be popular amongst politicians; it may seem like it makes people safe.  But to many experts registration only creates a false sense of safety and it will not prevent many future abuses from occurring.  Despite this fact, all 50 states and Indian reservations in the US will be required to establish a sex offender registry system by 2011—one that includes juvenile offenders who may be marked for life.

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), passed in 2006, establishes three tiers for punishment and length of registration as determined by the severity of the abuse.  Anyone 14 or over that sexually offends against a child 13 or younger receives a tier III designation—the most severe established by the law—and lifetime registration.  This includes juvenile offenders, which accounted for one-third of all sexual offenses against minors in 2009.  These kids will now be marked for life despite the fact that only 10 percent will reoffend, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management.

A report from In These Times chronicles the troubles experienced by kids that find themselves caught in the registration system at a young age.  The article examines the sex offender laws in Iowa, which have included registration and harsh residency restrictions, including for juveniles, for some time.  Even those who receive the therapy which most view as the answer for juvenile sex offenders—“These kids are young enough that we can teach them right from wrong,” a local expert is quoted as saying in the article in defense of treatment over registration—have a hard time finding housing, work and social acceptance as adults.

This isn’t to say that sex offenses aren’t terrible crimes that deserve punishment.  The point is that kids who make these mistakes deserve the right to learn from them, receive the best possible treatment and still have a future life without bearing the stigma of being a sex offender.  The “big enough to commit the crime, big enough to pay for it,” logic that drives many of these harmful, if well intentioned, laws can only be taken so far.  It’s a fact that kids make mistakes.  But it’s also true that they shouldn’t have to live their entire lives paying for them.  

Posted on September 28, 2010 and filed under The Issues.