A Broad Brush

by Patrick Appel

The Economist takes aim at sex offender laws. The article begins with a case in Georgia where a seventeen-year-old girl was forced to register as a sex offender for performing oral sex on a sixteen-year-old boy. Zooming out:

Georgia has more than 17,000 registered sex offenders. Some are highly dangerous. But many are not. And it is fiendishly hard for anyone browsing the registry to tell the one from the other. The Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board, an official body, assessed a sample of offenders on the registry last year and concluded that 65% of them posed little threat. Another 30% were potentially threatening, and 5% were clearly dangerous. The board recommended that the first group be allowed to live and work wherever they liked. The second group could reasonably be barred from living or working in certain places, said the board, and the third group should be subject to tight restrictions and a lifetime of monitoring. A very small number “just over 100” are classified as “predators”, which means they have a compulsion to commit sex offences. When not in jail, predators must wear ankle bracelets that track where they are.

Anytime I try to discuss criminal justice reform, incarceration hawks will use murders and rapists to stereotype the entire prison, parole, and probation population. Grouping together real predators with hormone saturated teenagers, like sex offender registries do, doesn't help the blurring of fairly harmless offenders and truly dangerous criminals.