She was dejected, and weighed giving up, but when she won last-minute funding from the Stoneleigh Foundation she moved her operations to Oakland, California, and launched a program called the Center on Youth Registration Reform, with a new criminal-justice-advocacy group known as Impact Justice. Then she forged a surprising alliance with Eli Lehrer, the president of the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
It was a curious pairing. Pittman favors funky red Converse sneakers, a silver nose ring, and a punk-rock-meets-courtroom aesthetic; Lehrer, a navy-blazer type, had a life-sized cutout of President Reagan in his office. Yet they both deplored juvenile registration; he saw it as a costly and invasive problem of big government, and one that flew in the face of the prevailing evidence about kids who offend against other kids. Pittman observed that some conservatives were willing to take risks that their progressive counterparts wouldn’t, to defend second chances for juvenile offenders. The religious right, for instance, shared a ready-made language of redemption.
Last summer, Pittman and Lehrer drafted a plan of action that focussed on revising a single clause of the Adam Walsh Act. Instead of mandating that states include certain kids on the public registry, they proposed that the law stipulate the opposite: that states failing to eliminate the practice of juvenile registration would fall afoul of federal law, and lose funds. Any savings could be put toward programs that took a preventive approach to childhood sexual assault. Pittman and Lehrer contacted Stacie Rumenap, the head of Stop Child Predators, who agreed to help push the proposal nationwide and to work with them on state-level reforms. “Over the years,” Rumenap told me, “I’ve become more sympathetic and more aware that, as we draft our sex-offender laws, we need to be very careful about how we insure young kids’ lives aren’t being ruined.”