Editorial: Political Courage Needed to Reform Missouri's Sex- Offender Registry

Article excerpt

The phony "tough-on-crime" environment could prevent Missouri lawmakers from doing what they should to reform the state's sex- offender registry.

There is no question that the registry needs work. It has been operating since the mid-1990s, when federal and state governments created "Megan's Laws" in response to the murder of a 7-year-old in New Jersey. Megan Kanka was killed by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street.

At the federal level, Megan's Law is officially known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994. It requires people convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of a change of address or employment after release from custody.

When sex offender registries were created, the World Wide Web was booming. It offered promise as a tool for the public to track criminals who had committed sexual crimes against children. Parents were told how to log on to a state website for registered sexual offenders. There, with the click of a mouse, they could find a map of their community with red arrows indicating where sex offenders lived.

A lot has happened in the world since 1994: 9/11; Osama bin Laden; New Orleans destroyed and rebuilt, to name but a few of them. Missouri's sex-offender registry, however, remains the same.

Studies disproving the effectiveness of such registries have proliferated. Extensive research has been conducted on the types of sexual offenders who will repeat their crimes, and the frequency or more often, infrequency that it happens.

A study by the state of Michigan showed that an average of just 3.5 percent of registered sex offenders repeat their crimes. The other 96.5 percent do not. As a group, sex offenders have among the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system.

It's the monsters who get the headlines and make politicians afraid of the repercussions that would come from supporting efforts to reform the registry to be more reflective of reality.

The reality is that being listed on the registry can destroy a person's life. In some cases, that's fine. It's hard to sympathize with a child rapist, or any rapist for that matter. But for others, being listed on the registry can lead to trouble finding jobs and housing and send neighbors and friends running.

Missouri keeps registrants on the list forever, no matter how young they might have been when they offended or the severity of their offense. This is overkill, particularly in light of some of the evidence that not all "sex offenders" are likely to be repeat offenders.

It's time to get unlikely repeat offenders off the state's registry so they can get on with their lives. …