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NYCLU Charges Legislation Requiring Lifetime Registration Of Low-Level Sex Offenders Is Misguided And Counterproductive

The New York State Senate today is debating legislation that would require low-level sex offenders to remain on a public sex-offender registry for life. The legislation would also require that the names and photos of these individuals are posted on the internet for the duration of their lives. The bill addresses a serious public safety issue, but does so in a manner that is misguided and counterproductive. Indeed, the bill fails to address the concerns raised by law enforcement professionals, victims’ rights advocates, and mental health experts. The proposed legislation —

Fails to distinguish between offenders who pose a serious risk of harm to public safety and those who do not

Many low-level offenders pose little, if any harm, to public safety. (Such offenses include lewdness and consensual sex involving an underage person.) What’s more, research has shown that the incidence of re-offense among offenders drops precipitously after a few years without a re-offense. Nevertheless, this legislation will require the lifetime registration of offenders who are deemed not to pose a high risk of re-offense, and who have demonstrated for 10 years that the initial assessment was correct. (Current law permits offenders to be removed from the registry after 10 years if they have not re-offended.)

By requiring lifetime registration for all offenders, regardless of the risk to public safety, the legislation undermines the public policy rationale asserted in support of the bill. That is, by including all offenders in the registry for life the proposed law would make it more difficult for law-enforcement professionals and ordinary persons to identify, and to protect against, those individuals who pose a serious risk of harm.

Ignores the state’s failure to fund the monitoring, supervision and treatment of high-risk offenders

Law enforcement experts, victims’ rights advocates, mental health professionals agree that monitoring, supervision and treatment of high-risk sex offenders can significantly reduce the incidence of re-offense. And yet there is a consensus among these professionals that the state and its counties have grossly under-funded these activities. A sex-offender registry is meaningless without a coherent and well-funded strategy to monitor, supervise and treat sex offenders who pose a high risk of re-offending. New York lacks such a strategy.

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