Complying with the Adam Walsh Act is not coming cheap for states. There are many different levels of costs associated with this list, not all of which can be expressed in dollars and cents.
The primary costs include re-aligning the list of sex offenses with length of time to be spent on the registry, reprogramming the computers, educating the staff responsible for the upkeep of the registry and many other administrative tasks, including the upkeep of the database. Studies by independent agencies have indicated that states have spent and are spending tens of millions of dollars for this one piece of legislation.
If this was really making a difference, if it was really making anyone safer, it might be worth it. However, studies have also shown that there is very little, if any, positive result from having a sex offender registry. It is not saving anyone, and is often instituting a false sense of security, since (as I mentioned in my previous blog post) the real threat is from someone close to the child, not the sex offender down the street.
In the meantime, other dollar costs are being incurred.
Legal defense of a bad law, which is certain to happen, is a secondary cost. People will sue the state to keep them from being labelled a “tier III offender”, when they have little chance of re-offending, such as a teen-on-teen relationship where the two involved have married or moved on to other peers.
Police departments across the country must keep a registry officer, one who registers the sex offender, updates the database locally, checks on the compliance of the registered individuals and so forth. This cost is borne locally. It is also a secondary cost.
This officer often has nothing else to do, since tracking sex offenders is a full time occupation. In larger communities, more than one officer may be dedicated to this task. Sex offenders move often, usually because they are forced to move by those who do not want a sex offender in their apartment building, mobile home park or neighborhood. People who have forced such things do not realize that they have not made their families any safer.Repeated studies have shown that sexual offending has little relationship with where they live (see Jill Levenson’s studies or the Human Rights Watch report, No Easy Answers).
Other costs are also incurred which are not so readily apparent. Sex offenders must have some variety of income. When people see where the registrant is working, they sometimes complain to the company. Most companies will fire a registrant after the first complaint, not because the registrant has done anything wrong, but because they are sensitive to public opinion. When a company fires a registrant, he has little choice but to apply for some variety of governmental assistance. He would rather work. The fact that he had a job proves that. But if he can’t work, due to the fact that most companies don’t want their names on the registry, then he must get food stamps, rental assistance and so forth. The level of unemployment among the sex offender registrants in many places is 85%.
If the registrant is capable of working, nearly all the registrants would like to do so. They would like to become productive, tax paying citizens, not unemployed people living off the state or local assistance.
Not All Costs Can Be Measured in Dollars and Cents
The cost to families of registrants has been well-documented elsewhere. Stress, bullying of the children of the registrant, vandalism to homes and cars of the family. All these have been documented in other blogs. For further reading on the subject of collateral damage, especially to families of registrants, I recommend http://prospect.org/article/life-list, I love a sex offender, life on the mountain and as a general overview of the subject, https://www.facebook.com/OfficialSOIssues .
If you take anything away from this post, remember that the registry has a long list of costs, both dollar amounts and human costs. One of those potential costs is your own liberty.
“Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.