The question of how to safely deal with convicted sex offenders upon release from incarceration has been an ongoing hotly-debated topic within American society for decades, with one of the earliest approaches to dealing with these criminals dating back to the 1930s (Petrunik 486). Although it is universally acknowledged that sex crimes are deemed wrong from both the criminal and moral aspect, indecision exists with respect to the constitutionality and effectiveness of current legislation in place for the offenders to maintain rehabilitation and keep neighborhoods safe. Statutes, such as the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994, the Pam Lychner Sex Offender Tracking and Identification Act, Megan’s Law and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, were enacted in an effort to prevent future sex crimes by released offenders and provide a sense of security for the public upon these individuals’ reentries into society; however, unintended negative effects are extending from behind prison bars and passing through the white picket fences all over the nation. At the center of most legal and ethical debate regarding this issue is the mandatory sex offender registry – the registration of all sex offenders with local and state police that provides identifying information to the public throughout the country upon their release to prevent recidivism. Although this may sound like an effective statute on its face, there are many consequences that stem from the sex offender registry as well that often go unnoticed or are considered small in the bigger picture of a safer community. With the obligatory registration come community notification and living restrictions for offenders in order to make sex offenders known throughout the local neighborhood and to keep them away from areas densely populated with children. Despite how beneficial this legislation may seem, the law also possesses many flaws that negatively impact both the offender and citizens’ lives, as will be demonstrated in this thesis. Among some of the severe problems of the sex offender registry is the biased assumption sex offenders will reoffend, incorrect registry information, a false sense of security experienced by parents, community vigilantism, and a feeling of uneasiness felt by both the citizen and offender. Although these acts have been put in place by our government and our people to protect the innocence of our children and adult victims, the sex offender legislation has also been defectively impacting lives, rather than easing citizens’ fear of potential sexual predators on the streets. In this thesis, I will take an in-depth look at and explain the damaging flaws and effects of sex offender legislation on both the offender and civilian, while using the state of Rhode Island as a microcosm of our nation’s law and outcomes.
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