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"All Sex Offender Registries Should Be Abolished": Reason/Soho Forum Debate, 2/12

Do sex offender registries make society safer or do the laws actually do more harm than good?

Soho ForumSoho Forum

Do sex offender registries keep predators like serial child molester Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, from becoming abusers—or do the laws actually do more harm than good?

"All the laws requiring those convicted of sex offenses to put their names in a registry should be abolished."

That's the highly controversial resolution that will be argued at the next Soho Forum/Reason debate, on Monday, February 12 at New York's Subculture Theater.

Emily Horowitz will argue the affirmative position. She is professor and chair of the sociology and criminal justice department at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York, where she founded a program that helps the formerly incarcerated complete college.

Marci A. Hamilton will take the negative. She is Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Soho Forum is a monthly Oxford-style debate, meaning that the audience votes before and after the proceedings and the debater who has moved the most people in her direction is the winner. Soho Forum co-founder Gene Epstein will moderate one of the most-controversial subjects imaginable. Reason is proud to sponsor the Soho Forum, which is held monthly. Each debate is also live-streamed at Reason's Facebook page and here at Reason.com. Go here for a full archive. To listen to an audio podcast version of the Soho Forum, subscribe to the Reason Podcast at iTunes.

Tickets must be purchased in advance. General admission is $18 and student rate is $10. For this debate, you can bring a friend for free. See details here.

"All the laws requiring those convicted of sex offenses to put their names in a registry should be abolished."

Mon, February 12, 2018

6:30 PM – 8:30 PM EST

Subculture Theater

45 Bleecker St

New York, New York 10012

View Map

Cash bar opens: 5:45pm

Meeting convenes: 6:30pm

Wine-and-cheese Reception: 8:15pm

Tickets must be reserved in advance.

Watch the most recent debate: "Is Selfishness a Virtue, featuring Yaron Brook and Gene Epstein, and moderated by Judge Andrew Napolitano.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Thank God you didn't tap a prosecutor for this. It would be unwatchable.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I would love to see a personality analysis study of prosecutors with respect to the .

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    The fuck? Here is the link : hexaco model

  • SQRLSY One||

    If they really are such a hazard to us all, why aren't they kept forever in jail? Maybe because the jails are full of pot smokers and tax evaders?

    Which is more scary to you, living next door to someone who might offend you by smoking pot, or next door to someone who might molest your kid?

    Then WHY do we fill our jails with pot smokers, and post a sign by the neighbor, "child molester lives here, beware"?

    Why not,instead, let the pot smokers out, and make them post a sign, "Beware, imbiber of politically incorrect substances lives here"?

  • silver.||

    Pot smokers are wayyy easier to catch to keep prosecution rates high.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I don't know...nearly everyone likes sex. Vice crimes should bring the required criminal defendants needed to keep the corrupt system afloat.

  • silver.||

    I suppose pretty much everything illegal releases dopamine.

  • colorblindkid||

    The number of pot smokers imprisoned for spoking pot is like 5%. I'm all for freeing them all and eliminating all traces of their previous crimes, but let's not pretend like our prisons are full of people who are in there for only smoking weed.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Actually, the jails are also full of abusers of "medical devices", 'cause we're too squeamish to dish out the death penalties that these abusers SOOOO richly deserve!

    I agree with Duatarte of the Philippines that all the druggies and pervs should be put to death, yes, obliviously…

    However, it seems that we have neglected an equally nefarious band of evil-doers, and that is those wretched, arrogant criminals who DARE to blow upon a cheap plastic flute w/o permission from a licensed physician! Google "lung flute" or look it up at www.churchofSQRLS.com to learn about these arrogant, dangerous criminals!

  • Brandybuck||

    ""If they really are such a hazard to us all, why aren't they kept forever in jail?""

    Because that would be too blatantly unconstitutional. The same reason they don't execute jay walkers.

  • Griffin3||

    How many times have you seen, in this very space ... Stop giving them ideas!

  • vek||

    Do you know how quickly we'd put an end to the scourge of jay walking if it was the death penalty???

    :)

  • chemjeff||

    If they really are such a hazard to us all, why aren't they kept forever in jail?

    Exactly. What is the point of putting a Scarlet Letter on them if they aren't so dangerous enough to warrant being let out of jail?

  • JuanQPublic||

    Politics and public perception vs. evidence and reason (and probably the Constitution).

    Of course, some offenders of the more pathological, serial variety should be separated from society. The problem is that the public (and lawmakers in response) does a very poor job of distinguishing the wide variety of offenders, instead offering emotion-based demands that have no correlation with good outcomes.

    At best, the current approach is ineffective. At worst, it actually makes likelihood of sex crime worse. That's all aside from passing Constitutional muster.

    A more rational approach would be a registry limited to law enforcement that contains past offenders that actually pose a high risk. But then again, as you pointed out, if they are that dangerous, why are they not separated from society?

  • JudoPete||

    The problem with this and why it hasn't happened is that the federal government is giving money to the states to enact policy based on Megan's Law, which is offense based; not risk based. States that don't comply don't get the federal money to maintain their huge sex offender registration schemes.

  • Cyto||

    If you have never done so, you must run immediately to your web browser and look up your local sex offender registry. The map of my area is covered in registered sex offenders.

    And it is completely useless. It is filled with indecent exposure and other drunken behavior, loads of registered offenders that are difficult to suss out why they are on the registry and is a general mess.

    If you were going to have a registry, I'd presume that you'd want it to be actually useful at identifying potential dangers, rather than obfuscating them behind a mess of false positives. So if you are a parent of young children, you'd want to know who the people are who are diddling little kids. And if you are a young single woman you might not care at all about those people, but you might be really interested in who the guys are who rape strangers in the park. Or maybe a background check on the guy who asked you out to see if he was accused of a date rape. But maybe knowing about date-rape dude isn't such a big deal if you are going running in your neighborhood and you are a 43 year old mom.

    The map in my area is entirely worthless. There are so many dots that you'd have to spend hours going through them to figure out what it means to your family. So my solution was to downplay the whole thing and keep my wife from looking at it. Because if she sees it the kids are never leaving the house.

  • silver.||

    It is filled with indecent exposure and other drunken behavior.

    Through college, I'd sooner piss myself than take a whizz in an alleyway. I had a big bladder, but I know at least two guys that weren't so lucky. Absolute madness.

    On the registry, there were maybe one or two dozen within a mile of where I grew up, but many of the offenses were decades old; some statutory charges were even when the offender was 18 and very well could've had an underage girlfriend. I don't think these people generally steal kids off the street, either.

  • Rhywun||

    If you were going to have a registry, I'd presume that you'd want it to be actually useful

    We all know there was never any chance of that happening. Moral panics always spiral out of control.

    Through college, I'd sooner piss myself than take a whizz in an alleyway.

    Did the alley thing many times up to my early 30s and just before the sex-offender insanity ramped up. In my day you could make jokes about it on Seinfel instead of having your life ruined.

  • JudoPete||

    Of those on the registry, only approximately 3 to 4% will recidivate in a sexual manner, a recidivism rate several orders of magnitude lower than any class of convicted criminal other than killers. It is a well-known fact that most sexual offenses occur by offenders unknown to the police, and known to the victim as a family member or friend of the family.
    If we used a risk based system those people would be easier to identify and focus law-enforcement resources on. As it is, local sheriffs offices are spending hundreds if not thousands of man hours per week checking on, registering, and scrutinizing people who pose little to zero risk at all.
    But, sexual offenders are a very convenient punching bag and received very little sympathy from the citizenry; so it only makes sense for the politicians to score easy points by "protecting the public". Since the Supreme Court decided that sexual offender registries are not in fact ex post facto punishment, No matter how harsh the penalties for failing to comply with the onerous regulations, it's all been deemed legal. But many state courts have begun to push back against the legislature and determine that it is in fact ex post facto punishment because the restrictions tighten every year and not following the restrictions has become punitive in nature. The restrictions themselves have become punitive in nature, often resulting in banishment, Inability to get jobs and carry on a normal life with family members, or travel.

  • JuanQPublic||

    What needs to be asked is: Why is "sex" the first consideration that lawmakers give when someone publicly urinates in proximity to families? It wouldn't be surprising to learn that some lawmakers are projecting their own issues within the law.

  • jelabarre||

    The map in my area is entirely worthless. There are so many dots that you'd have to spend hours going through them to figure out what it means to your family. So my solution was to downplay the whole thing and keep my wife from looking at it. Because if she sees it the kids are never leaving the house.

    Too late, mine has already looked at it

  • sarcasmic||

    If they are a threat to society they should be locked up, and if they are not they should be left alone.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is just no authority for government to tell people where to live, that they have to "check in" with police, and that they cannot participate in Halloween if a person is not in police custody.

  • sarcasmic||

    People in government see no difference between power and authority.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Since these sexual registry schemes are unconstitutional after a person has been released from custody, the solution is pretty easy.

    If the person is on probation or parole, the state can implement a punishment that is neither cruel nor unusual.

    Otherwise ban the sexual offender registries.

  • chemjeff||

    I actually finished up listening to the "Is Selfishness A Virtue" debate last night. Thought it was quite interesting. Man, Gene Epstein pulls no punches. I wouldn't want to get into the debate ring with him.

  • silver.||

    I wish the NY town hall about the same topic had been near me.

  • Tony||

    I'm against sex offender registries and bangs.

  • billdeserthills||

    Yeah, having laws against sexual predators is making their lives very difficult...

  • Procyon Rotor||

    Check out this guy, trying to argue against a position he's obviously never listened to in the first place. Did you not even read a single one of the above comments to at least get a general idea of why someone might oppose the registries?

  • JudoPete||

    There are something like 885,000 (and growing daily) registered sex offenders in the USA, about 10% of them in my home state of Florida. The problem is that we have an offense based system that doesn't take into account the risk that an offender will re-offend, and registered sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate next to convicted killers. Take into account that most offenders were low level "situational" offenders and that politicians have removed a judge's discretion as to who is registered, and that many offenders plead guilty to deals before the registry scheme was invented then they were retroactively required to register decades after their offense. Then the requirements and restrictions have been ratcheted up every time the legislature meets, making it more and more onerous for an offender to even exist.

  • JudoPete||

    I am a registered offender. If a family member visits my home more than 5 aggregate days in a year I have to report their vehicle as being at my address. If I register on an Internet forum or play an online game I have to report my new account to the sheriff or face a new felony charge and 5 years in prison if it slips my mind. Florida has a 25 year "escape hatch" written into their sex offender law, saying that if I go offense free (any criminal offense, not just sexual recidivism) I can petition to be deregistered. The problem is that nobody has ever been released from registration because the governor has to personally approve it, and he never will.

  • JudoPete||

    Even people that briefly visited Florida years ago and never lived here are still registered as a Florida sex offender on the FDLE website with no hope of getting off, even though their home state has released them from registration requirements.
    My crime? I was in a relationship with an underage girl. We were close enough in age that our physical relationship was perfectly legal but she gave me a sexy photo of herself at 17 and I was convincted of possessing child pornography. A picture of a young woman that slept next to me every night legally. That was 15 years ago. Am I a danger to the public? Do my neighbors benefit from knowing about that ancient snafu?

  • vek||

    For whatever it's worth, you have my sympathies man. I could have been busted for the same nonsense in high school. I have a friend who slept with a girl 1 year outside of the legal age difference in his home state, she had even lied about her real age, her parents found out, pressed charges... On the registry for life. It's a truly fucked up system. People that were convicted of actual violent rape or per-pubescent kids... MAYBE there could be justification for that. Maybe, for a limited period of time or something. But what it has turned into is utter nonsense.

    I hope the laws get changed in your home state someday man, people are trying!

  • JudoPete||

    Three major things need to change for these registries to have any semblance of public good. One, the legislature has removed the judges discretion as to who becomes a registered offender. Two, it is a fence-based and not risk based. So a situational offender, like Someone that had relations with an underage person that presented him or her with a legitimate fake ID, was that person truly out seeking to break a law? The element of intent was not even there. The registries need to be refocused on people who actually present a public danger; not just anyone that brushed up against an arbitrary law. Three, There needs to be a reasonable way to be evaluated and released from registration. I believe Georgia, Oregon, and Vermont have undertaken this task, but the other 47 states have not.

  • antiestablismentarianism||

    Quite interesting that you were convicted of the possession yet she wasn't even charged for the distribution, huh? These registries are overwhelmingly directed towards men and older boys which is why very few women end up on the registry. Shouldn't Janet Jackson be on the registry for publicly exposing herself at the Superbowl? Nope. Why? Because she's a famous black woman. Case closed.

  • JudoPete||

    Letters to my congressmen go unanswered because we are easy punching bags. Easy to hate. Every time they meet my life becomes more difficult. Now they're trying to make us register any address we visit more than 3 aggregate nights in a year and get a new drivers license if we stay at an address 3 nights in a row. Or face a 5 year felony with a mandatory GPS ankle bracelet.

  • JudoPete||

    The homeless in Miami are 43% sex offender (based on the estimated number of homeless in Miami minus the number of registered homeless sex offenders) because they've been essentially banished from living nearly anywhere in the city due to residency restrictions that initially put them under a bridge, then in a small pocket of the city in an industrial area. Now they've enacted a "no camping" ordinance that requires officers to take the homeless to a shelter but RSO aren't allowed a the shelters so they're mandated to be taken directly to jail. Miss an appointment, go to jail. Rent a car because yours is in the shop for 5 days and forget to report it, go to jail for 5 years. And you can forget about a nice family vacation in Cancun because now all of our passports are stamped with big red warning labels and International Megan's Law sends warning letters called "green notices" to any country we try to travel to. Doesn't matter if you traded naughty pics with your teenage girlfriend 40 years ago or raped a 2 year old; we are all lumped together. No risk basis; just lifetime registration, ostracism, and banishment. All ex post facto.
    These onerous laws being constantly piled on make reoffending almost inevitable, when otherwise these people would be 97% non recidivists.

  • antiestablismentarianism||

    Emily did a fantastic job in this debate. I know the deck was well stacked in her favor because Marci was not a good debater, let alone a great debater. She never presented one fact or legitimate reason for these registries to exist while Emily presented fact after fact after fact. Although I agree with Emily's position, I think the person debating the negative should've been someone a little more competent than Marci. She sounded like an elementary kid saying, "no, you're wrong!" Her lack of debating skills and conversely, critical thinking skills can be used to cheapen the decisive win of Emily.

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