Bill To Fix Maine’s Leper Colony Registry

Posted on February 9, 2011

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Author: Stan Moody:

Seemingly on cue, former Senate Chair of the Maine Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Sen. Bill Diamond, has introduced a bill to grade the severity of those on the Sex Offender Registry.

The Sex Offender Registry, Maine Government’s top Google-ranked site, is a common point of interest for the general public. Little can capture the attention of a small town more than to know that the guy living in the 3rd floor walkup of the apartment building down the street was a convicted sex offender.

By way of example, while “prison reform” gets around 18,000 Internet hits a month, “sex offender registry” is hit nearly 700,000 times a month.

“Wonder what he did? What is ‘Unlawful Sexual Contact?’ Have you ever seen him?”

From the point of view of many, a sex offender is someone who is forever lurking around corners or hanging around schoolyards. One of the great assets of the registry, in fact, is the dawning realization that a sex offender looks a lot like the rest of us, with the exception that he tends to keep his eyes down, his mouth shut and his hair over his face.

We may become so used to living with sex offenders that they lose the popular stigma of predators. The irony is that while the preponderance of sex offenses are carried out by family friends and relatives, our communities also house convicted burglars, murderers, dope peddlers and common thieves.

We are far more vulnerable to a break-in than we are to a sex offense.

The intent of Diamond’s bill is to permit people to assess the degree of risk they face with convicted sex offenders in their communities You would be able to know in common language, for example, if a young man on the list had been convicted of having a relationship with an underage girl or was accused by a wife or girlfriend of a sexual assault.

It is intended to separate out the pedophiles from other less worrisome crimes – distinguishing violent and wanton disregard from acts of immaturity and mutual lust.

As it stands, the sex registry has pictures, names, addresses, places of work or school and a legal description of the crime for which convicted.

Diamond’s bill is certainly well intentioned. Yet, it does not address the problem with the list. What began as 39 categories of sex offenses under the Adam Walsh Act has blossomed to 189, including urinating in public, streaking and on-line sex chat, all unpleasant activities to us more refined folk but hardly worthy of a scarlet letter for the rest of your life or even for 10 years.

The legislature is very much aware that federal grant moneys to law enforcement agencies are tied to the registry. The federal Byrne funds that are used by police departments to purchase radios and cruisers will be cut, for example, if states fail to follow the federal guidelines.

One of those federal guidelines is automatically to impose lifetime registrations for those over 14 convicted of any one of the 189 offenses. The trend for state legislatures will be to tweak the list, get the funds and leave ruination in the wake.

The public needs to know who are the “creeps” in their communities. There is a sea difference, however, between the 45 year-old male who has molested an 8 year-old child and the 20 year-old male who was in a consensual relationship with a 15 year-old girl.

Neither would likely be welcome at a neighborhood barbeque, but common sense ought to prevail.

Adam Walsh’s dad, John, who devoted his life to lobbying Congress for the registry, had this to say about the list: “The registry is not being used as it was intended, so let’s get rid of it and focus on the 10,000 violent offenders and track them.”

To indicate the scale of how huge a change that would be, there are 720,000 registered sex offenders in the US. To cut it down to 10,000 would be a reduction of 98.6%.

The registry is escalating; the costs of maintaining it are rising; lives are in despair, and a puritanical public mistakenly assumes that our criminal justice system is keeping us safe.

Meanwhile, we recoil at the very thought of all such violations, while we revel in sexually- oriented advertising at every level of life in America.

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