Sunday, June 23, 2019

be more visible in other reform efforts

It is past time for registry activists to become visible in the larger criminal justice and prison reform efforts. We will not end the registry until we are part of the larger fight.

At least four national organizations fight against the sex offender registry and the harm it causes: Women Against Registry (WAR), National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL), Sex Offender Solutions & Education Network (SOSEN), and Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws (ACSOL).

Excellent organizations, they educate people affected by the registry, they stand up for registrants, they hearten those of us in the fight. Walking into a room full of these warriors can be life-changing.

We have scholars who have taken up the fight against the registry because their research shows that the registry offers no protection to the community and that it harms families. The data is on our side.

If passion, righteous anger, facts, and our own efforts were enough, the whole idea of registries would already be gone. Instead, we see states adding crimes to the list of registerable offenses, states proposing whole new registries, news media still trying to gin up fear against those labeled "sex offender," and reform organizations using the sex offender category as leverage to pass reforms.

We need to do something different. We need to join forces with other criminal justice and prison reform organizations.

Maybe we don't always agree with those other organizations but we can still learn from them and--here's the beauty part--they can learn from us. The more we speak up about registry issues in those organizations, the more those organizations learn. We can learn from them about how they built their advocacy organization, how they approach legislators, how they change hearts and minds.

We can find common ground with others.

For example, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) doesn't talk a lot about sex crime sentences but they are firmly opposed to mandatory minimum sentences for any crime. Would they be more active in eliminating mandatory minimums for sex crimes if we were visible in their organization? Yes, they would, and we would be pushing harder for sentencing reform in general because of what we learned from FAMM. Both causes win.

Criminal justice reform in the United States is having its moment. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, all have reason to want to reduce mass incarceration, to shorten prison sentences, to offer something other than prison sentences, to improve prison conditions, to reduce corruption in departments of correction, to increase the success rate for those who come back to our communities after prison.

We do not need to agree on all points to attend meetings, to listen and learn, to make connections with other good people. After all, disagreeing with our own registry reform organizations on some issues doesn't stop us from using them as resources.

An internet search for "criminal justice reform organization [your state or city]," or "prison reform" or "sentencing reform" will show you which organizations are active near you. Follow the larger organizations on Facebook or Twitter so you can see where their focus is. Go to their meetings, if possible. For states that have no registry organizations, this could be a good way to meet others like you.

If you find local organizations working with reentry efforts, go to those meetings and listen. That is where you can make connections with others who have answers you may need. You will have stories and information they will need.

Remember that asking for an end to registries is the right thing to do, even if other reformers tell  you it will never happen. It certainly will not if we are not clear that abolition is our goal.

Abolish the registry.

Below is a list (an inadequate list!) of some national organizations that might be used as a starting point:

Black and Pink
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Innocence Project
The Marshall Project
Prison Policy Initiative
Right on Crime
The Sentencing Project
Vera Institute of Justice