Monday, March 2, 2015

the registry does no good but we must have it anyway, says MA state rep

Paul Heroux, a Massachusetts State Representative, asks the question, do sex offender registries reduce recidivism?

He answers the question immediately.

No. Or at least that is what the empirical evidence and research on this issue shows. 
Seems clear enough but Heroux is a lawmaker with a constituency that could turn on him so he tries to hedge his bets. 
But that doesn't mean we should not have them. The fact is that the registries don't really do anything to improve public safety. They just make people feel safer and in control; unfortunately this is a false sense of security.
To restate his first paragraph: sex offender registries don't improve public safety; they offer only a false sense of security.

Can he balance those facts against "but that doesn't mean we should not have them"? He tries.

His arguments against the registry are a bit murky but the basics are there.

  1. Sex offenders are not all the same and we should not treat them as if they are.
  2. Because sex offender recidivism is very low, we can't use past behavior of a sex offender to predict his future behavior.
His arguments for keeping the registry?
There is more to policy than just evidence-based practices. In politics and government administration, there is ever present concerns with effective policy and the optics of policy. 
Ohhh. Optics of policy. That sounds so...important. Notice, though, that he separates the optics of policy from effective policy.

That separation earns him points for honesty. 

His arguments for keeping the registry continue:

Now, while I already discussed that registries are a false sense of security, that they take time away from what does work, and that there is no evidence that they reduce recidivism, there is reason to keep them. Parents and the public want to know who have committed sex offenses. And since all criminal records are public information, this information should not be suppressed. However, the public needs to start to understand that sex offender registries don't keep people safe. And the public also needs to realize that not all sex offenders are pedophiles. Most are people who will never re-offend ever again. The statistics are very clear about this. [My emphasis.]
His pro-registry arguments...
  1. People want to know who committed sex offenses.
  2. That information is already public information and shouldn't be suppressed.
...are neatly sandwiched between two restatements of his arguments against the registry.

Heroux knows the truth: registries do no good. I'm glad he sees that.

He continues with a handy list of ways to guard against sex offenses, which does not include consulting the registry.

Then comes this muddled paragraph:

In addition to the person, the individual and the guardian being the first and best line of defense against sex offenders, we need to include who is a pedophile in our classification of the Sex Offender Level. In some states, pedophilia as a DSM diagnosis, is not included as a variable when determining who is a level 1, 2 or 3 sex offender. We need to make sure that we empirically evaluate the effectiveness of correctional treatment programs aimed at reducing sex offending. There is a lot that can and should be done. The point of this article is not to get into all of that; that point of this article is to highlight that sex offender registries don't reduce sex offender recidivism.
He mentions two specific measures he thinks should be taken--we need to keep track of the pedophiles on the registry and we need to figure out if treatment programs are effective--right before saying he doesn't want to get into all of that.

Researching existing sex offender treatment programs is an excellent idea. We ought to get into all of that.

According to Heroux himself, registered sex offenders--including any who might be pedophiles--are very unlikely to commit another sex offense, so why the special attention to pedophiles? Probably because there is no easier target than the fearsome pedophile and the suggestion that pedophiles get extra-special treatment on the registry is a sop to his pro-registry constituents.

That constituency must make him wary about flat-out stating the obvious: 

We could abolish the registry with no effect on public safety.

Seeing Heroux write that the registry has no effect on recidivism is gratifying. Imagine how gratifying it would be if he could say that without adding to the restrictions imposed by the registry, that same registry that he says "[doesn't] really do anything to improve public safety."

Either it helps prevent further crimes or it doesn't. It doesn't.
Either it protects the community or it doesn't. It doesn't.

If only Heroux had gone a step further and talked about what the registry does.

It is used to keep registrants from finding employment.
It is used to keep registrants from finding housing.
It is used to encourage fear of people who are very unlikely to commit a sex offense.
It is used to keep parents from attending school events with their children.
It puts families in danger. Real, physical danger from vigilantes.

Sex offenders and their families are routinely affected in those ways by the registry and none of that helps to keep our communities safer.

Perhaps if State Representative Heroux hears from those who appreciate him saying as much as he did, he might find the moral courage to stand up for sex offenders and their families.


Shelomith Stow said...

Excellently written and analyzed; it needs to be sent to every legislator in every state who proposes yet more restrictions and harsher penalties against registered citizens. Possibly..just possibly..a few more will find the same kind of courage as Heroux and go even further with it.

oncefallendotcom said...

This sounds like a textbook definition of doublespeak.