Of course, our lives are certainly not the only ones that stand to be altered. Nearly hundreds of thousands of families in New York State will be suffering the consequences as well. After all, the Level 2 notification is just one of the eight bills. Below, see my summary of the problems with each bill in the package:
1. Bill S.356 “would designate anyone convicted of committing or attempting to commit sex offenses against children aged ten years or less a Level 3 offender”
Problem: This means that juvenile offenders who commit crimes against other children will be automatically designated as Level 3. I would be embarrassed to be a resident of any state that subjects children to the lifelong humiliation of being publicly registered. Furthermore, research and experts have testified that juvenile offenders have extremely low recidivism rates.1 Ironically, we consider children to be victims, incapable of understanding or consenting to sexual activity – but when they are the perpetrators, somehow that becomes false?
2. Bill S.487 “would help address the high recidivism rates among convicted sex offenders”
Problem: This statement is FALSE, FALSE, FALSE. Recidivism rates for convicted sex offenders are the LOWEST of all crimes except murder, and this has been consistently documented since long before the public registry existed. A 2012 study from CT found a 2.7% re-offense rates.2 A 2007 study from New York found that just 3.5% of registrants commit new sex crimes3.
3. Bill S.597A “prohibits sex offenders from obtaining licenses and certification to become real estate appraisers… the bill would prevent a scenario where convicted offenders would be in a position to be alone in an empty house or building with someone vulnerable to attack.”
Problem: Again, this statement is based on the myth that sex offenders have high re-offense rates. 95% of sex crimes committed by people who have no prior conviction for one, and therefore aren’t on the registry4. Therefore, this bill ignores the high majority of sex crime victims. Furthermore, restricting a registrant’s ability to find gainful employment contributes to significant instability. Without an income, and unable to afford housing, the chances of re-offense increase.5 If the registrant has a family to support, this negatively impacts all of them as well as costs taxpayers if the family is forced to use public assistance.
4. Bill S.1544 “makes it a class D felony, punishable by up to 7 years in prison, for sex offenders who fail to register according to SORA”
Problem: There are nearly 35,000 registrants in New York state alone and the smaller municipalities that are in charge of registering local registrants are severely over-burdened. When my fiancée went to have his 3-year picture taken, he provided the appropriate party with our new address. They refused to take it and said he needed to leave, call back and make a separate appointment for this. When he followed their instructions, each time he called they were “too busy” to set up an appointment. It then became his fault when they were unavailable within the 10-day timeframe, and he was charged with felony failure to register. We spent $3,000 in legal fees to avoid prison. Had he been forced to go to jail for this, I would have lost our house, all our possessions and any ability to survive. It would not have helped his victim or kept anyone safe. It would have destroyed our lives. It is not acceptable to send someone to jail based on someone else’s inability to perform their job.
5. Bill S.1542 “makes it a felony for certain sex offenders who fail to register or report a change of address”
Problem: Again, this does not take into account how over-burdened local municipalities are. The number of registrants has exploded since SORA, and this puts even more pressure on over-worked public employees. Furthermore, as illustrated above, it creates criminals by making it very difficult to avoid felony FTR charges…and subsequently, more inmates for whom taxpayers have to pay to incarcerate.
6. Bill S.512A “makes the same identifying information pertaining to Level 2 sex offenders that is available to the general public through the state’s sex offender registry website available to law enforcement for dissemination/community notification purposes”
Problem: The low re-offense rates for sex offenders combined with prevalence of crimes committed by first-time offenders make community notification a poor attempt at preventing sex crimes. A NY-based study by Dr. Jeffrey Sandler found that the registry and notification has had no impact on sex crime rates whatsoever.6 Disseminating personal information to the public puts the children and family members of registrants in direct danger, and makes them easy targets for vigilantes7.
7. Bill S.1522 “requires sex offenders to disclose whether their residence is within ½ mile to an elementary or secondary school.”
Problem: This bill is based on the false belief that all sex offenders are dangerous to children, when in fact, the majority of sex offenders don’t have child victims8. Proximity to schools and other areas that children gather is irrelevant, as most children are abused in their homes or in other private places behind closed doors9. Studies have also shown that restricting where sex offenders can live not only fails to prevent sex crimes, but makes it more difficult for them to find housing and can lead to higher populations of homeless registrants. Homeless registrants have higher re-offense rates than registrants who have stable housing and access to family/support networks10. Similar restrictions have also prevented mothers and fathers who are registrants from bringing their children to school or attending school functions with them. Children of registrants in areas like this are often singled out and targeted by other peers and even adults.
As usual, the root of the problem with virtually every piece of proposed legislation is its exclusivity and total ignorance of facts. How can a bill possibly be about "prevention" when it only targets 5% of those who commit sex crimes in the first place? Our legislators, and especially the public, do not seem to comprehend that all that "tough" legislation, public shaming and vitriol hatred of society doesn't begin to touch the people we really should be protecting our children from.
Our society loves high-profile atrocities, yet consistently fails to see that we're failing at protecting ourselves or anyone else from the big bad predators who inspired Megan's Law, Jessica's Law, and other laws named for horribly violated children. Why? Because by projecting that image onto 750,000 registrants in this country and treating them accordingly, they slip through the cracks while we are left to sort out the bloated mess we created.
Inevitably, many will jump on the politically-motivated bandwagon of "child safety" and pledge their undying support to methods that punish, destroy and harm - all the while claiming it's in the name of kids. Practical people will do their kids a whole lot more good by taking that passion and addressing public policy makers - and asking why they've been lied to.
1. “Juveniles who commit sex crimes against minors”, US Dept of Justice, 2009. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227763.pdf
2. “Sex Offender Recidivism in Connecticut”, Connecticut DOC, 2012. http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/cjppd/cjresearch/recidivismstudy/sex_offender_recidivism_2012_final.pdf
3. “Sex offender populations, recidivism and actuarial assessment”, New York Div. of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, 2007. http://theparson.net/so/NYsomgmtbulletinmay2007.pdf
4, 6. “A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law”, Dr. Jeffrey Sandler PhD, 2008. http://www.rethinking.org.nz/images/newsletter%20PDF/Issue%2078/C%2002%20watchedpot.pdf
5. “The Efficacy of County-Level Sex Offender Residence Restrictions in New York”, Dr. Kelly Socia PhD, 2011. http://www.endsexcrime.org/Efficiency%20of%20County-Level%20Sex%20Offender%20Residence%20Restrictions%20in%20New%20York.pdf
7. “Collateral Damage: Family members of registered sex offenders”, Dr. Jill Levensen PhD, 2005. http://www.opd.ohio.gov/AWA_Information/AW_levenson_family_impact_study.pdf