Sex Offender Registration for Juvenile Offenders May Not Be Effective

It's a fact of life: children make mistakes. Often, these mistakes provide an opportunity for a parental figure to teach the child the difference between inappropriate and appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, occasionally these mistakes can lead to a lifetime of punishment — for example, when the mistake leads to accusations of juvenile sex offenses.

One man is living this particular nightmare. When he was 12 years old he had inappropriate contact with his eight year old sister. He states it was never penetrative, but was more aptly described as exploratory touching. When the sister approached the mother, the young boy never denied it. He never called his sister a liar.

In an attempt to steer them onto the right path, the mother contacted a counselor. She intended to have the children meet with the counselor to make sure that the experiment did not go any further, also, to help ensure both children could continue to lead healthy lives and help teach her son the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, state law required the counselor to contact the police, and the police chose to file charges against the young boy.

As a result, the child spent three and a half years in the Texas juvenile justice system and is now required to register as a sex offender until he is 31 years old.

No one would argue against protecting victims, particularly children, but wasn't this young boy a child himself? Although some punishment may have been appropriate, didn't he also deserve some level of protection and rehabilitation instead of only receiving punishment?

Children who are found guilty of sex crimes are at a critical crossroads. Penalties may be necessary to help deter the crimes in the first place, but once the crime is committed many professionals argue that a focus on rehabilitation is far more productive.

History of the Sex Offender Registration List

One of the more devastating penalties requires juveniles to register as sexual offenders. The beginning of these lists is most often associated with Megan's Law.

Megan's Law was enacted shortly after the tragic death of Megan Kanka in New Jersey. The seven-year-old girl was lured by a neighbor with promises of seeing a puppy. The neighbor, a convicted sex offender who served time for aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault against a child, assaulted and killed the girl just 30 yards from her own home.

State officials reacted to the public outcry promptly, enacting Megan's Law. The piece of legislation was later extended to many states, including Texas, and can be applied to all sex offenders whether the victims are children or adults, and whether the offenders are children or adults themselves.

The list was designed to aid enforcement officers in tracking offenders and alert community members when an offender moved into their neighborhood. It was thought that public awareness would allow parents to better protect their children.

Unfortunately, research of the first ten years of the lists' existence is not supporting these designs. The Justice Department completed a study in 2008, finding that a comparison of the decade before and after implementation of the sex offender registry shows little change in criminal activity and public safety. In fact, Megan's Law was found to have no effect on re-arrest, re-offense or reduction in the number of victims involved in sexual offense crimes, particularly when the offender was a juvenile at the time of commission.

Sex Offender Registration List: Drawbacks and Texas Law

Even without scientific support, the list will most likely remain as is. In fact, it has been growing by over 100 additions every week.

Many state officials are concerned that removing anyone from the list could be political suicide. The chair of the House Corrections Committee, State Rep. Jerry Madden, stated that it was difficult to remove even low-risk juveniles from the list for fear of getting it wrong. No one, he told the Texas Observer, wants to "let out the one that's going to go grab someone's kid off the street."

Although many states limit the information provided on juvenile offenders, Texas generally does not. Instead, a broad range of information is available including the registrant's name, address, phone number and a current picture. These individuals have difficulties finding jobs, a place to live and are often victims of harassment.

Advocates for a victims' rights group — Texas Association Against Sexual Assault — argue that the current sex offender registration list is far too large to be effective. At over 70,000 individuals listed and growing, it is difficult to determine who the dangerous offenders are. As a result, Torie Camp, deputy director of the group, argues juvenile sex offenders should not be included since they generally do not pose the same risks as adult offenders.

The far-reaching consequences of sex offender registration are just beginning to be known. If you or a loved one is charged with a juvenile sex offense, it is more important than ever to seek the aid of experienced juvenile sex offense lawyers to better ensure that your legal rights are protected.