Here is an article that I read from February of this year.
Panic Does Not Make for Good Policy
Roger N. Lancaster, a professor of anthropology and cultural studies at George Mason University, is the author of "Sex Panic and the Punitive State."
FEBRUARY 20, 2013
Sexual violence, like other forms of violence, is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are appropriate and effective.
The U.S. legal landscape was reshaped by federal laws passed in the mid-1990s, in response to heinous but statistically unusual crimes involving stranger abduction, rape and murder. The Wetterling Act required convicted sex offenders to register with local authorities, and Megan’s Law required law enforcement to notify neighbors about the presence of a sex offender in their community. As a result, all states now post searchable online lists of at least some categories of registered sex offenders. The U.S. Department of Justice links all the states’ registries in a single searchable site, available to neighbors, employers, landlords and the public at large.
Just laws are supposed to deter crime, apply proportionate punishment and rehabilitate offenders. U.S. sex offender laws fail on all three counts.
These public lists do include some violent repeat offenders, which was the original aim of the laws. But the registries have grown rapidly — to nearly three-quarters of a million registrants at latest count. Culpability and harm vary greatly in the offenses for which people are registered. Some states require exhibitionists and “peeping Toms” to register. By best estimates, a large majority is registered for conviction on first offenses involving neither violence nor coercion (or even, in some cases, physical contact). Many registrants would not be classified as criminal under European laws, which set lower ages of consent than do American laws. Registrants even include minors who had consensual sex with their high school sweethearts, or who traded self-taken sexually explicit photos with their peers (“sexting”).
Other laws go further still. Civil commitment procedures allow for the indefinite detention of sex offenders after the completion of their sentences. Many states require some sex offenders to be monitored for life with electronic bracelets and global positioning devices. A 2006 law, the Adam Walsh Act, established a federal pilot program to use global positioning to keep an eye on sex offenders.
Meanwhile, “child safety zone” laws in more than 20 states and hundreds of municipalities restrict where a sex offender can live, work or walk. California’s Proposition 83 prohibits all registered sex offenders (felony and misdemeanor alike) from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, effectively evicting them from the state’s cities and scattering them to isolated rural areas.
Such provisions were promoted as applying to the “worst of the worst,” like child rapists and violent repeat offenders. In practice, they turn expansive classes of people into pariah outcasts who can never be reintegrated back into society: adults who supplied pornography to teenage minors; young schoolteachers who foolishly fell in love with one of their students; men who urinated in public, or were caught having sex in remote areas of public parks after dark.
According to classical precepts, just laws are supposed to deter crime, to apply determinate punishments in proportion to real harm, and to rehabilitate offenders. U.S. sex offender laws fail on all three counts. They violate basic legal principles and amount to excessive and enduring forms of punishment.
What is to be done? We could start by repealing the most excessive punishments. Child safety zone laws, in particular, are tantamount to practices of banishment. Courts have already blocked implementation of these laws in some locales, and state legislatures or city councils have modified them in others.
Sex offender registries, which were opposed by civil libertarians from the start, are probably here to stay; so, too, the civil confinement laws, which allow the government to lock up individuals after their sentences. Both have been upheld by the Supreme Court.
But we could revisit the registries’ public notification clause — which, studies show, is costly, ineffective and may even encourage recidivism by shutting ex-offenders out of employment and housing and giving them “nothing to lose.”
Closed registries, available only to law enforcement professionals and social workers, could be substantially scaled back, to exclude minor offenders and focus on repeat offenders who have committed serious offenses. (This is essentially the way the British system works.)
Slowly, piecemeal, we can begin to revisit our tendency to criminalize broadly and to punish excessively. Over time, we can work out an approach that avoids the Scylla of sex panic and the Charybdis of rampant child exploitation.
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People need to realize and understand that these laws are not fair. Where there is no "real victim", when there is no violence, laws have to be readjusted. We need to put the focus back on serious offenses and give people a chance. Especially when their punishments are unfair to begin with.