Catherine Carpenter, a professor at Southwestern Law School, puts the situation bluntly in "Throwaway Children: The Tragic Consequences of a False Narrative," a new research paper published by the Social Science Research Network: "We are afraid for our children and we are afraid of our children."
Carpenter's paper argues that it's wrong to automatically put underage perpetrators of sex crimes on the sex offender registry. This policy is guided by the mistaken presumption that these kids will become sexually predatory adults, Carpenter writes. That fear, she says, "is premised on a false narrative that includes flawed studies on recidivism rates and misguided case decisions that embraced these findings."
Recidivism rates for juvenile sex offenders are so low as to be indistinguishable from the rate of first-time offenses. And compelling research finds a capacity for rehabilitation in children. But the public has been led to believe that juvenile sex criminals—many of whom are teens who had consensual sex—will never stop pouncing.
Forcing kids as young as 9 years old to register as sex offenders has enormous costs to society. As Carpenter writes: "Mandatory lifetime registration captures and shatters the lives of many non-dangerous children. It is a price tag we should no longer be willing to bear."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Kid Criminals".