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State has opportunity to redo sex offender registry

• Oct 12, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Michigan's ill-advised scheme to pile on punishment for convicted sex offenders failed to get even a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving the Legislature to craft a new law that will restore both sanity and fairness to the state's sex offender registry.

The High Court said it will not take up Michigan's appeal of a 6th Circuit Court ruling that struck down its practice of applying new restrictions retroactively to those on the list. Now, the state has no choice but to draft new rules for monitoring sex offenders, and restricting their activities.

It's a blessing in disguise for the state.

The Michigan Sex Offender Registry is a bloated mess. There are roughly 44,000 names on the list. That would be a frightening number if all of the individuals named were sexual predators who presented a grave danger to society.

But most aren't. The registry is filled with individuals who had consensual sex when they were teenagers with girlfriends not yet 16 years old. In some cases, men are on the list for sexual activity with women who are now their wives. And some have landed on the list for being caught urinating outdoors.

They are not a danger to society. They are not sexual predators. But they are subjected to strict monitoring and compliance rules.

For many, if they leave town for more than a week they have to report to police the reason for their trip. Likewise, they have to report every change of address, email accounts and phone numbers.

If they're on the list, they may not be able to visit their children's schools or attend their sporting events or other activities. They are handicapped in finding jobs and housing, and have to live under the constant worry they'll be found out and ostracized.

And they face living under those conditions for the rest of their lives. Getting off the list is virtually impossible.

A registry this massive is expensive and time consuming to maintain, and because of its size and the range of offenses covered, it's not much use to the law enforcement agencies it was intended to serve, or to neighbors in the community.

It often leads to isolation of the person on the list, increasing the odds that they will engage in anti-social behavior again.

In rewriting the law, common sense should prevail, and public safety should be the only goal.

First off, teens who were busted for consensual sex should never go on the list. And if they do, youthful offenders should have their cases reconsidered once they reach adulthood.

The registry should be limited only to those who present a real danger to the community. A conviction alone should not determine risk. Those on the registry should have a path off, and the ability to present evidence as to why they are not a threat.

For lower-level offenders, restrictions on housing and participation in family and community events should be lifted.

The registry should not serve as a means to perpetually punish those who have served their sentences.

The Supreme Court has handed Michigan an opportunity to revamp its egregious sex offender registry in a way that protects the public without destroying lives.


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