Juvenile Sex Offender Registry (SORNA)

Over 200,000 people in 39 states are currently on sex offender registries for crimes they committed as children. Some were put on the registry when they were as young as eight years old. The information from these registries lives forever in electronic databases. Once children are labeled as sex offenders, they carry that label throughout their lives, even if they are removed from the registry later.

Young people who commit sexual offenses should be held accountable for their actions, but sanctions must be developmentally appropriate. Registries punish young people for years and even decades after they have been through the justice system and been provided targeted treatment.

Research consistently shows that children and teens convicted of sex offenses are highly unlikely to commit another sex offense; multiple studies nationwide indicate that less than five percent of teens will re-offend in subsequent years. With such a low recidivism rate, data and research also confirm that registries don’t improve public safety. In fact, registration actually harms young people, branding them for life as sex offenders and erecting often insurmountable barriers to educational and employment opportunities, housing and other opportunities for civic engagement.

Labeled For Life

Registries impose punishment with consequences that extend far beyond a young person’s time in the justice system. The consequences are grave. Once registered, children may be unable to attend school or live at home with their families. Registration can also lead to homelessness, as it ostracizes youth from their communities and forces them to live on the margins of society. Over half of registered youth and their families report being targets for vigilante violence.

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.

Expensive, Ineffective, Excessive

Registries are ineffective because they label youth as sex offenders even though the vast majority of these youth will never commit another sexual offense. In fact, 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 obtain housing. The marginalization of these youth can actually drive young people to commit non-sexual offenses. Registries are also expensive. Nationwide, states and local communities spend over $3 billion a year to maintain these registries.

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

Juvenile Law Center works nationally to abolish juvenile sex offender registries, through impact litigation, appellate advocacy and collaboration with attorneys and other stakeholders nationwide who are seeking to eliminate sex offender registries for youth at the state and federal level. We provide litigation support to attorneys who are challenging registration across the country, as well as provide professional training, technical assistance and public education.

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 young people.

2020 Convening for Policy Advocates

Registration can last a child’s lifetime and cause significant barriers to education, employment, social relationships, and well-being. Legislative advocacy is needed—in coordination with litigation—to end youth registration completely. Join us May 18-19, 2020 for a two-day convening for policy advocates.

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Melissa Brown, Montgomery Advertiser •