Two things came together this week to cause me to consider something I had previously given little thought to—one of the spawn of the constantly increasing ramifications of being a registered sex offender, failure to register (FTR). For an excellent and well-documented analysis of this relatively new “crime,” read this report in the scholarly blog Sexual Abuse—A Journal of Research and Treatment.
The main points of the article, and the ones most relevant to my concerns, are that, first, there is no evidence whatsoever that “failing to register” is correlated with increased re-offending. In other words, registrants are not going off the grid in order to relapse into prior behaviors. In most cases, they aren't "going off the grid" at all but rather are living such transient lives that they are missing deadlines and aren't getting mail.
The second point is how very easy and how very damning failure to register is. First, as the article says, “FTR is not simply 'failing to register' but, perhaps, most often the failure to register in a timely manner.” Additionally, as the authors point out, “…each failure to report ordinary life events is an opportunity for registrants to commit a new felony.” The potential consequences are mind-boggling, both for the registrants and for society. “Being required to register for decades is, in reality, retribution with interminable opportunities for FTR. Prudent public policies are compromised when violations of the 'civil' requirements of registration carry severe criminal penalties so damaging that offenders may never recover.”
The second event that set all of this swirling in my mind was a report of a man who had been convicted in 2001 in North Carolina for “indecent liberties with a child.” In 1999, when the event occurred, he was 19 and the child was 13. His sentence of 16 to 20 months, probated, speaks to how benign the liberties most likely were and was most certainly deserved; the differences between a 19 year old young man and a 13 year old girl, even an eager and willing one, should not be ignored.
Forward to 2013; this same young man, now 32, has just been convicted of “felony failure to comply with sex offender registration” after a one-day trial and a jury deliberation of less than one hour. He was sentenced to no less than 23 months and no more than 28 months in the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction.
I could find no details about the failure to comply charge, but he clearly had not absconded; he was readily available for arrest and trial.
From all available evidence, this man did something really stupid when he was 19. He was punished appropriately. He has not repeated his stupidity. He has been compliant with his registration requirements for 14 years. Something happened that changed that. He was relatively easily found and not committing any other crime or offense. This will by no stretch of the imagination contribute to public safety, but he will now spend two years in prison at the expense of the state of North Carolina.