Opponents of sex offender registration lists argue that the lists are more punitive than they are helpful. These opponents are using the Philip Garrido case as the smoking gun to show how ineffective sexual registration laws and registries are.
After taking one look at the Garrido case, there is no doubt that the number of missteps are mind-blowing, just as the number of missed opportunities (to bring Jaycee home earlier) are heartbreaking. But as we look at this case in hindsight - as those of us who are concerned about protecting children will - we are as worried about the far-reaching ramifications of this case as we are that Jaycee and her kids will never experience a smooth transition into mainstream life, given what she's gone through for 18 years as a sex slave.
New York Times author Monica Davey puts the concerns in perspective in her article, "Case Shows Limits of Sex Offender Alert Programs." This article asks hard questions and challenges us to decide whether sex registrations are all they are cracked up to be. How sad is it that we are forced to even ask that question when legislators and politicians are just recognizing that Americans have a right to expect legal protection of our children and an assurance that the best possible laws to do so are on the books.
I am not writing this to say that sex registry lists are foolproof, or that they guarantee safety, or that they don't have negative effects on those on the lists. Instead, this article forces us to evaluate whether these registries are fundamentally good policy. I believe they are. If just one child is saved from a sexual assault, a kidnap or a murder because of registration, then we have protected that child. And since children, as non-voters, do not have the ability to protect their rights legally, we as adults need to explore every possible avenue to do it for them.
The problem with sex offender lists is not necessarily the lists themselves but how we are using the lists, updating them, deciphering what they mean, and insuring that the "worst of the worst" are not only listed on this list but are actually being monitored.
Arguing in support of sex offender registrations over the past week has become more challenging. How can anyone claim with credibility that these lists are critical to investigating sex crimes and keeping offenders off the streets when the very people who run the registries, input the data, investigate the cases, etc., are those who allowed Philip Garrido to walk the streets freely in Antioch, Calif.? These people actually allowed his tent city to exist with no questions asked. They simply "checked in" on parole visits without thoroughly monitoring him and this registered sex offender to subject Jaycee Dugard to 18 years of captivity.
But the answer here is not getting rid of the registries. The answer is revamping the registries, making them consistent from state to state to insure that the information on the lists is meaningful to everybody. It means monitoring the privileges of parole and probation, and educating people on how to use the lists and what they mean.
While sex offender registries may be riddled with imperfections there are still benefits from the information they hold. By being able to search on Google for sex offender registries, anyone can access the information about who lives near them without depending on law enforcement, Department of Corrections, or anybody else to do their jobs. It puts the power of information in the hands of the people so that adults can better educate themselves about their neighbors, their friends' neighbors, and the people who live near their children's schools.
Once you search the list, you can then discuss safety with your family and explore how to protect yourself and your loved ones. We sometimes forget that even the people we know, our neighbors, can be a danger to us if we don't have all the information.
If we keep the registries and use them correctly, we will all be a lot safer than if they didn't exist!