USA FAIR, Inc., a national advocacy organization formed by the family members of people required to register with the sex offender registry, today urged the Massachusetts State Legislature not to act on Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to bring the state into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act (AWA).
“Many enlightened states, including New York and California, have looked at AWA and rejected it on the basis of sound principles of sex offender management and Massachusetts should continue to do likewise,” said Shana Rowan, Executive Director of USA FAIR.
“USA FAIR is very concerned that in the wake of the heinous criminal charges recently brought against John Burbine that Massachusetts will allow emotion to trump reason and cause the state to adopt legislation that is not supported by volumes of research on sex offender recidivism. The unfortunate history of sex offender legislation in the United States has been to react to rare high profile crimes, while ignoring the fact that sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the entire criminal justice system,” said Rowan.
Rowan continued, “If Mr. Burbine is found guilty of these horrific crimes then the full force of the law should be brought down upon him. However, the thousands of law-abiding former offenders who live in Massachusetts and are just focusing on rebuilding their lives as good citizens and providers for their families should not be punished for his acts by having new sanctions imposed upon them. Punish the offender, not the entire offender group.”
Rowan continued, “USA FAIR opposes states adopting the Adam Walsh Act for numerous reasons including its discarding of assigning risk levels based on scientific risk assessments in favor of a conviction based tier system. It makes no sense assigning risks based on the conviction, because research has shown that the people who commit the same crime do not pose the same risk of reoffending. The crime is only one of many offender and victim characteristics that need to be evaluated. This is one of the major reasons why the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), the nation’s largest association representing sex offender treatment professionals, also opposes AWA.” (http://www.atsa.com/pdfs/ppReasonedApproach.pdf)
Rowan cited a recently published November 2012 study conducted in four states (Florida, New Jersey, Minnesota and North Carolina) that found an overall sex crime recidivism rate of 10% after 10 years. The study found that among those who committed a new sex crime, “Actuarial measures and existing state tiering systems both showed better predictive validity than AWA tiers.” Referencing the Burbine case, Rowan added, “The state tiering system is working better than AWA. You don’t scrap a system that works because a Level 1 offender committed heinous crimes. Low risk was never meant to mean no risk.” (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/240099.pdf)
USA FAIR also strongly opposes Governor Patrick’s call to place more registrants on the public website. “Listing on the public website can be a life-destroying event. Experience has shown in other states that have expanded its public registry that many law abiding offenders who have lived offense-free in the community for years and even decades have lost jobs and even been forced to move following public disclosure. Such actions not only impact former offenders, but their family members as well who suffer the collateral consequences of the registry. Listing on the website should be reserved only for those who have been deemed truly dangerous.”
Rowan concluded, “We fully understand the emotional appeal of the “if it just saves one child” argument, but basing public policy on the rare heinous crime committed by one registered sex offender, while ignoring the extensive research of the entire former sex offender population, does not result in a fair and reasoned criminal justice system. The Massachusetts Legislature should consider the Governor’s proposal in a deliberative manner and avoid rushing to judgement in a climate of sex offender panic.”