Guy Hamilton-Smith on people with convictions for sex offenses, science, and “shadow con law”

March 26, 2024

Guy Hamilton-Smith (Leading With Conviction™ 2019) writes:

“There is an issue that I don’t particularly know how to address with respect to challenges to various sex offense registration schemes that comes up frequently in court decisions.

“The science on these issues is pretty consistent: sex offender registries don’t reduce recidivism (and might increase it), and restricting where people with past sex convictions can reside does nothing to increase public safety, and arguably decreases it. We spend an enormous amount of resources, law enforcement manpower, and court docket time on an Emperor-has-no-clothes kind of system. The evidence is so clear with respect to residence restrictions, for example, that I can literally not point you to any expert that says they are a good idea, and plenty of experts and law enforcement agencies who say that they are bad ideas and not grounded in available evidence.

Sex offender registries don’t reduce recidivism (and might increase it)

“Now, if registries and all their associated paraphernalia such as living restrictions were simply cast as punishment, the public safety question / evidence question wouldn’t matter. It would not matter if they increase recidivism because one of the ostensible goals of punishment is simply retribution. If society wants to extract pound after pound of flesh for no other reason than to make people it deems deserving hurt, then that is society’s business (and the legislature’s).

“But pointedly, these laws are very much characterized by legislatures and some courts as non-punitive, civil regulatory measures that are either meant to or necessary to protect the public. Because if they’re characterized as punishment, two things happen: they become subject to other constitutional arguments such as Ex Post Facto, and it lays bare what I perceive as one of their actual purposes in that we don’t care if they’re effective, we just want people we deem deserving (and their families) to suffer. Because of their legal existence as public safety tools, however, that is a question that is subject to testing from folks like social scientists because laws must still bear a rational relationship to their intended goal.

“So given that the science indicates that these tools are not effective, and thus that legislative judgments are not just ignorant of available evidence but are in direct contravention of it, what happens when courts say that these are issues for the legislative process to resolve?

“Are legislators responsive to the science or concerns regarding sex offender registries? My own sense is that, no, they generally do not care or at least do not care enough to propose evidence-based legislation for fear that it will harm re-election efforts.”

Read the full article at Guy’s Substack.

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