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Because they are currently such a dominant force in the criminal justice system, it is difficult to imagine that Congress only began insisting that states create sex offender registries 20 years ago. Prior to 1994, states could opt to create these registries or refuse to do so without fear of consequence. Over the past 20 years, each state in the union has developed some sort of registration system to track individuals convicted of certain criminal sex offenses.

These registries were created partially in response to several high-profile cases involving repeat sex offenders. In truth, the fraction of convicted sex offenders who reoffend is relatively rare. However, the public outcry which understandably results from high-profile repeat offenses tends to demand action. Lawmakers have embraced sex offender registries as the form that their action tends to take.

Unfortunately, while the inspiration for these registries is understandable, their practical implementation is in serious need of reform. At present, lawmakers are reforming these registries in ways that make them more strict, make registration periods lengthier, make them include even more kinds of offenders and make violating registration requirements punishable by even more severe offenses. These reforms are moving forward despite the fact that many of them are resulting in devastating and destructive consequences as opposed to increased protection of the public.

In the mid-1990s, the nation felt the need to take serious action in response to repeat sex offenses. While that discussion may have been necessary at the time, the nation now needs to question whether the sex offender registration approach is actually working and what approaches may be even more effective as opposed to more destructive.

Source:, "Reforming the Registry," Chanakya Sethi, Aug. 15, 2014

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