Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Criminals have rights too

Last week, the Indianapolis Star reported on flaws on the state's registered sex offender database.  The Marion County Sheriff took steps to ensure the accuracy of the registry, and the Indianapolis Star wrote a piece on Sunday to congratulate themselves on forcing action to be taken and being awesome in general.  These are my least favorite articles, which is why I found myself reading it (after catching up on the Komen controversy... Hoosier-centric this week, I see).  Yet, this isn't really the point of the article.  Now, the Indianapolis Star is upset about the way in which the registry was updated.  Those who were convicted of sex crimes before the registry was created were simply removed.  Why were they there in the first place?
We have a long-standing tradition in the United States that laws cannot be applied retroactively.   You cannot be sentenced to death for stealing a pack of gum if this was not a potential sentence at the time in which one stole the gum.  How can one have a layer of punishment added to a crime which was committed before the registry existed?  The answer is a misguided Supreme Court decision in 2003 that declared that registries are regulatory in nature as opposed to punative.  Looking at the way these registries are used, it is hard to make the claim that sex offender registries do not serve to punish sex offenders after they have served their sentences.  This is a clear violation of Article 1 of the Constitution.

But what about the children?

What about them?  The problem with the sex offender registry is that it provides a false sense of security.  The registry only tracks convicted sex offenders, not all sex offenders.  Jerry Sandusky appeared on no sex offender registry when he [allegedly] molested young boys at Penn State.  It deludes parents into believing that if they stay away from certain neighborhoods and keep to others, then their children will be safe and sheltered.  It relieves the responsibility of preparing children to confront Stranger Danger, yet does not keep them from encountering known or unknown sex offenders during their daily lives.  I'm not sure what the point of such a registry is.

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