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For registered sex offenders, punishment may last a lifetime

A recent article on our website discusses Minnesota's sentencing requirements with regard to sex crimes. Also discussed are the qualifying criteria that make up the three levels of Minnesota's sex offender registry. In Minnesota, frequently individuals who are convicted of a crime that is deemed to be sexual in nature are required to register with the state as a sex offender. This wasn't, however, always the case and today some question the effectiveness of sex offender registries and whether they ultimately serve to help or harm society as a whole. 

In 1994, with the passage of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, the federal government took steps to encourage every state to create a sex offender registry. In subsequent years, additional laws were passed that provided members of the public access to personal identifying information of registered sex offenders and imposed harsher sex offender registry guidelines.

While some argue sex offender registries help keep communities safe, critics of the registries, which includes Jacob Wetterling's mother Patty, argue they may do more harm than good. Wetterling points to scientific research that, since the passage of many sex offender registry laws, provides more insight into who is most likely to commit sex crimes as well as recidivism rates. 

Research shows that the vast majority of sex crimes are committed by someone the victim knows. Additionally, overall recidivism rates for convicted sex offenders who are released from prison average only 5.5 percent. However, despite mounting scientific evidence that proves otherwise, proponents of sex offender registry laws believe enforcing punitive restrictions related to where an individual, who has already served his or her prison sentence, is allowed to live, work and visit are somehow effective in promoting public safety.

Individuals who are forced to register as sex offenders are condemned to live in the shadows of society. The open and condoned discrimination and harassment they face prevents many from ever reintegrating into and becoming productive members of society.

Individuals who are facing criminal sex charges in Minnesota would be wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney. Penalties associated with a sex crime conviction are punitive and have far-reaching consequences.

Source: Slate, "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far," Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi and Jane Shim, Aug. 11, 2014

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