In a new policy paper, R Street Institute Justice Policy Manager Christina Delgado makes the case that forcing juvenile offenders to be listed on sex-offender registries has been economically disastrous, unjust and causes incredible needless hardships for children. While it would be misguided to suggest full removal of the registry system, Delgado makes the case that juveniles who commit often-minor sexual offenses should have at least the same potential to rehabilitate and integrate back into society that their peers who have committed other, more serious offenses do.
A national practice since the late 1990s, sex offender registration and community notification for adult offenders has correlated with significant drops in the rates of sex offenses. In contradistinction, not only are few crimes averted through the juvenile registration process, but the social costs far outweigh any potential benefits. Such facts notwithstanding, in 40 American states, juveniles who commit sexually related offenses can be required to register—sometimes for life.
“Let’s get real with some facts,” notes Delgado. “Among youth sex offenders, recidivism rates range only from 3 to 4 percent. In fact, arrests for sex offenses accounted for less than 1 percent of all arrests committed by youth aged 17 or younger. So, given the low likelihood of occurrence both for first-time and repeated offenses, to commit juveniles to a potentially lifelong registry list fails to address the problem rationally.”
Delgado argues that registration brings with it a number of burdens both legal (e.g., exclusion from certain jobs, professional licenses or places of residence, and a requirement to carry certain identifications) and practical (e.g., the social stigma of being branded a sex offender) that can affect a child well into adulthood. Moreover, many of the arguments advanced in support of current registration policies are misguided or simply inaccurate. Programs and policies that require children adjudicated as juveniles to register as sex offenders represent bad public policy, and the registration of children as sex offenders must end.