Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

End Juvenile Sex Offender Registries

WHAT WE DO

This isn’t an easy issue to address, but as a nation we must start examining how we deal with youth who commit sexual offenses. Young people should be held accountable for their actions and face developmentally appropriate consequences. Judges, policymakers, and society at large should consider two things every parent knows – first, children are immature, and secondly, they have a unique capacity for change.

Juvenile Law Center works nationally to abolish juvenile sex offender registries. Data and research shows that registries don’t improve public safety and actually harm young people. In 2014, we successfully challenged Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration (SORNA) requirements for youth, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deemed mandatory lifetime registration unconstitutional for youth offenders.

We provide litigation support to attorneys who are challenging registration across the country. Juvenile Law Center also collaborates with attorneys and other stakeholders nationwide to eliminate sex offender registries for youth at the state and federal level.

Research shows that children and teens are highly unlikely to commit another sex offense after their first. Registries punish young people for years and even decades after they have been through the justice system and served their time.

Over 200,000 people in 39 states are currently on the sex offender registry for crimes they committed as children. Some were put on the registry when they were as young as eight-years-old. Once children are labeled as sex offenders, they carry that label forever– even if they are taken off the registry later.

LABELED FOR LIFE

Registries are severe punishments that extend far beyond a young person’s time in the justice system. Even after a child has been held accountable, served time, and been declared rehabilitated, being labeled as a sex offender and being on a registry is something the child will carry for life. Being on a registry means having to deal with unrelenting, long-term, and unjust penalties.

The consequences – some direct, some indirect – of being on a registry are grave. It can prevent a child from going to school or living at home with family. In many cases, being on a registry can lead to homelessness or tearing families apart. Sometimes a child isn’t allowed to live with a sibling. In these cases, parents may be forced to send a child to live with someone else, or the family must live in and pay for separate homes.

Registries can turn kids or their families into targets and ostracize them from their communities. Over half of registered youth and their families report being targets for vigilante violence.

EXPENSIVE, INEFFECTIVE, EXCESSIVE

Labeling kids as sex offenders doesn’t increase public safety.  Registration creates a baseless fear not supported by research or data on the re-offending rates of youth. Registries are also expensive. Nationally, maintaining juvenile sex offender registries costs the public over $3 billion a year.

The severe restrictions placed upon registered kids makes communities less safe by isolating those youth and restricting their ability to go to school, find work, or find housing. The negative impact of the registry can actually drive young people towards committing non-sexual offenses.

Registration is only expensive, ineffective, and excessive punishment. It does not increase public safety. It has severe, long-lasting effects on youth including labeling them as deviants and restricting their residence, employment, and education opportunities. Registration also carries risk of long prison terms and large fines if youth do not or cannot comply with registration and notification requirements.

Being on a registry also increases a child’s risk of suicide. Several registered youth have expressed suicidal ideation, and some young people have attempted suicide because of the burden of being labeled for life.

Young people trying to get their lives back on track deserve better.

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One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before. Support