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Conservative Think Tank Supports Less Sex Offender Disclosure

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Texas lawmakers have filed more than a dozen bills this session that augment or add restrictions to the behavior of registered sex offenders, of whom Texas now has over 72,000. That’s normal—sex offenders don’t have a lot of constituent clout and making them list their status on a driver’s license or social media profile is a low-cost, low-risk way to look tough on crime.

What’s unusual is that the Texas Senate recently passed a bill that would remove employer information from the public registry. Senate Bill 369 is by Houston’s Democratic state senator John Whitmire. Right now, you can look up an offender’s name, race, height, weight, hair color, eye color, shoe size, home address, birth date, and employer name and address. Dropping the last two wouldn’t be for the good of offenders, but of the businesses they work for.

“The employer didn’t commit an offense,” says Marc Levin, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice. “There’s a lot of concern about employers being harassed, vigilantism. Certainly there are a lot of studies showing that families of sex offenders have been subject to harassment and even criminal activity.”

Levin says the House version of the bill, HB 879, also met enthusiastic support in committee.

“The risk that a sex offender may reoffend is actually lower if they’re employed,” Levin says, so along with protecting employers, the reform may increase public safety.

But that kind of pragmatism is a slippery slope toward reality-based policy. No research has ever suggested, let alone proved, that public sex offender registries prevent crime or reduce recidivism. (Check out “Life On the List,” our cover story from last June, for extensive documentation of what the list doesn’t do.) And research does show that the perennially popular laws restricting offenders’ movement, employment, schooling and home hinder successful reintegration.

The registry continues to swell, and all that monitoring takes public money and law enforcement time and attention. So will the TPPF, a free-market think tank that has supported a variety of right-on-crime reforms, ever oppose the registry itself?

“We haven’t gotten into the question of whether we should have one,” Levin says. “But there is a concern that the registry encompasses too many people that aren’t predators to be effective.”

Emily DePrang joined The Texas Observer in 2011 as a staff writer covering criminal justice and public health. Before that, she was nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. Before that, she was a waitress. She's also appeared in The Atlantic, Salon.com, and VICE. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and has won some things, including the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (2012), the National Health Journalism Fellowship from USC Annenberg (2013), and a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Reporting (2014). She still sometimes thinks about waitressing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002339415202 Shelly Stow

    What a wonderful article and a big, big step in the right direction. We must have fact-based and research-backed laws and policies. Nothing else even begins to make sense. Thank you, Ms. DePrang and the Texas Observer.

  • ediebillings

    Kudos to Mr.Levin for a well written insightful article. I wish others had the common sense and brains that he has. He is spot on and sees things as they are and not pandering to fear and hysterics like many public figures do.
    Many thanks Mr.Levin and Ms.DePrang.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vicki-Burton/100003132787434 Vicki Burton

    I appreciate the decisions being made here which will ultimately make life a little better for our registrant families. Anybody that has experienced the registry understands the value of giving folks a chance to earn a living, support themselves and their family, The three main factors in reducing recidivism are; support of family, employment and housing.

    Vicki Henry
    Women Against Registry dot com

  • http://www.facebook.com/tamsills Tammy Sills

    I’m so thankful Whitmire has sponsored this bill, a bill based on common sense not unfounded hysteria. I wish we had more legislators with the courage to step and and say “enough”. Every session brings more restrictions, and with that, more cost to taxpayers.

  • elaine

    they need to shut the sex offender registry down or modify it so families can be able to just do normal every day things like walk hand in hand in a park enjoying the nature and the land GOD created us . as well enjoying life outside of our homes then feeling like we are inprisoned rest of our lives. ankle braceltes needs to be gone too . probation i can understand but ever law that comes after that to me as a sex offender wife is rediculous . and its doing more harm to all our familes. vigilantes . . the registry tells people everything about you . even tag numbers to cars etc. i could be driving in my car someone sees my tag think im my husband and harm me or just do it cause its one of our cars. my husband had jobs lost them cause people looked on internet the workers there and called in and caused problems ,calling mid night to tell boss who already knew about it . , but just to start trouble. .,,, then you are scared just to even go get food at store cause your picture is on the website for sex offenders.. cant go no where , so we are imprisoned in own home . so when you get probation . you end up with ex post facto laws that come into place while your on it and after!! meaning even after probation is up after 14 more years . we still got rest life of this registry . life???? so my son cant ever have daddy at a sports game . school to pick up drop off . cant enjoy a nature walk as family. cause he cant ever step foot at a park . cant do nothing . cant watch him graduate cause its highschool . or even see his grandchildren cause they are kids??? how is this fair ,? is this fair to our son ? to our family? do u not think this will emotionally tear my sons heart out when hes older and has to be faced with all this .. think about the families being hurt !!! cause of the registry laws in every state and every time keep turning around anotter bad law to take away freedom is addressed , trying to make it law!! .im tired of shedding millions tears everytime i think of how we are being treated and this registry is harming our familes . i want to see GOD move and im going to keep praying GOD will move in all this , so we can be families again ., as i said before i dont care about probation stuff , fines etc , but the rest of this is unconstitutional .any C hristians out there please pray for the country USA . to shut down the sex registry laws forever in JESUS name . also those whom are not Christians . please seek GOD repent get saved and delivered , and then YOUR prayers GOD will hear and when two or three are gather in midst with prayer and all . JESUS is in the midst and he will hear us ,an d you can pray registry laws be no more in JESUS name and if his will it will be done !

  • scholarly ambition

    Educated people know the registry is a dog and pony show for the politicians that want to be re-elected. It does not prevent any crime. It does keep the ex-offender out of work and maybe homeless. If I were a parent (which I am not), I would rather these ex-offenders were living and working somewhere. Seems like it is more dangerous in the school lately (teacher arrests) than it ever was 1000 yards away. But, quite frankly, I would just rather parents reclaim their responsibility for their own kids so I can pay less taxes or less for gas, I don’t care about this kabuki dance anymore. There are 7 times the number of offenders NEVER reported and NOT on the registry. So actually, the chance someone on the registry that has all their vital information with a picture will not be who assaults you, it will be someone ELSE. (7to1) One in 417 people in the U.S. is now on the registry. Keep your own eye on Uncle Harry and lower my taxes.