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August 11, 2014

Three Yale law students in Slate: American sex offender laws are unfair, draconian and based on bad science.

In Slate today, the article "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far" argues that both state and federal sex offender registry laws are draconian and wrongly based on "the terrible exceptions" rather than the norm. We agree. Bravo to the three Yale law students--Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi and Jane Shim--who wrote it. Part II of this story on what to do about it ("making registries smarter and better") will appear in Slate on August 15. Excerpt from today's piece:

In seeking answers to those questions, over the last several months, we were surprised to find that one of the sharpest—and loudest—critics of the ballooning use of registries is Patty Wetterling [mother of an abducted child missing since 1989].“These registries were a well-intentioned tool to help law enforcement find children more quickly,” she told us. “But the world has changed since then.” What’s changed, Wetterling says, is what science can tell us about the nature of sex offenders.

The logic behind the past push for registries rested on what seem like common sense assumptions. Among the most prominent were, first, sex offenders were believed to be at a high risk for reoffending—once a sex offender, always a sex offender. Second, it was thought that sex offenses against children were commonly committed by strangers. Taken together, the point was that if the police had a list, and the public could access it, children would be safer.

The problem, however, is that a mass of empirical research conducted since the passage of Jacob’s Law has cast increasing doubt on all of those premises. For starters, “the assumption that sex offenders are at high risk of recidivism has always been false and continues to be false,” said Melissa Hamilton, an expert at the University of Houston Law Center, pointing to multiple studies over the years. “It’s a myth.”

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Posted by JD Hull at August 11, 2014 07:00 PM

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