COMMENTARY | Recently, four sex offenders testified before the Texas legislature against a bill that would require their criminal history to be posted on Facebook. It is one of a number of ways lawmakers in Texas and other places have attempted to get the information about sex offenders out to the public. As a general rule and as a mother, I do support the notion of sex offender registries and strong conditions placed on sex offenders in order to ensure the public’s safety. I think I am as passionate about protecting people from sex offenders as anyone else. On the other hand, though, I think that perhaps there is a point when the attempt to warn the public crosses over into the arena of witch-hunting and adding consequences to individuals that, according to the law, have already paid for their crime.
Is there a value, for example, of listing an individual’s place of employment on the sex offender registry? Is this practice keeping the public safe or is it serving as an excuse for the employer to fire the individual or for people to target that person at work or target his or her place of work? How about making the person place a sign in his or her yard, announcing that he or she is a sex offender? As a landlord, you might be willing to rent to an ex-con, but are you going to rent to one who is going to have to post a public announcement in the front yard detailing his offenses? Regarding a listing of sex offenses on one’s Facebook account — I’m not even sure how you could force someone to list that information. I would guess that the offender would either opt not to use Facebook or, like a lot of people with a lot of different reasons, would use an alias.
The Associated Press’ report on the matter indicates that such drastic reporting of sex offenders pushes these people to the fringes of society. They become unemployable and homeless. Some people may argue that suffering societal consequences is exactly what these offenders deserve, and in a lot of ways, I would agree. However, I have to ask myself this: Is making a person unemployable and homeless really going to protect the public from them? If these individuals are sick enough to re-offend, then will adding hopelessness to their list of ills somehow reform them? If we don’t want them in society, then we need to collectively decide to pass laws demanding a mandatory life sentence for sex offenders.
Those who become entries on the sex offender registry have already been convicted and they’ve already been sentenced. If they’re out there in society getting jobs and homes, then they’ve likely served their time and have met or are in the process of meeting the conditions of their parole. While I realize that sex offenses are in a different category of crime than any other illegal activity that one can commit, I have never heard discussion of someone convicted of driving under the influence being forced to provide information of his or her crime on Facebook. I’ve never heard of a child abuser having to list his or her offenses on a sign in the front yard or a thief having his or her place of employment flagged on a website for all to see.
Currently, we’re allowing these individuals to go back into society after their time is served. If we don’t want to allow them to be there, then we need to change the laws rather than to continue to punish them.