Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Is a Sex Offender Living Near You?

You can find out at this site. Enter your address and it pulls up a map that pinpoints all the sex offenders near you. Roll over the points and you can see their picture and get their criminal history.

I find the existence of these sex offender lists to be an interesting commentary on our culture. Clearly we as a society do not believe such criminals can ever be fully trusted again. Yet we release them from jail which means we believe that they can be mostly rehabilitated. Or at least we believe that they will be so scared of going back to jail that they'll not commit anymore crimes.

But are these lists worthwhile? Some argue that on-line publication of such lists violate privacy rights and sometimes list people as sex offenders who do not belong on such a list. Others have pointed out that many of these lists are not updated properly and it’s easy for an offender to fall out of the system.

But are there privacy issues here? And do a few people wrongfully placed on the list invalidate the entire system? I don't know. I don't know how much more dangerous a sex offender is as compared to any other violent ex-con. Certainly sex offenders sound scarier but if they're so dangerous that we need to post their names, photos and addresses on the web, should they really be out of confinement?

In the end, I don’t think these lists are as much about protecting ourselves as they are about policing our culture. I think these lists satisfy our cultural desire to cast out those whose actions are wholly against the society in which we wish to live. Rape, child molestation and other sexual crimes are so abhorrent to our sense of what's good and proper that those who commit them simply cannot be allowed back into society as full members. Even if they buy the home next to us.

2 Comments:

Blogger Joe Weedon said...

The other point you're missing here, Alan, is that the vast majority (forgive me for not knowing the stat off the top of my head - been a while since I worked in corrections) of all sex crimes are committed by someone you know and someone who has never been previously convicted of a sex crime.

These lists prevent people from living a full, normal life. Is it ok for the police or FBI to know where sex offenders live? yes. But, it's not ok for their neighbors to know.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Strong said...

I went and looked up my neighborhood, just for curiosity's sake. Turns out there are about twenty near me - all black, mostly young men. And all probably pretty poor, too, given what I know about the area.

Some of these men may be rapists, and I suppose a few may even be pedophiles. But I wouldn't be surprised if most had committed *relatively* minor crimes, and ended up with this very public scar on their record due to vagaries of the system and lack of good lawyers.

It all leaves me with an ill feeling.

1:44 PM  

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