Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US

Human Rights Watch

(May 2013)
Raised on the Registry report cover image

Upon release from juvenile detention or prison, youth sex offenders are subject to registration laws that require them to disclose continually updated information including a current photograph, height, weight, age, current address, school attendance, and place of employment. Registrants must periodically update this information so that it remains current in each jurisdiction in which they reside, work, or attend school. Often, the requirement to register lasts for decades and even a lifetime. Although the details about some youth offenders prosecuted in juvenile courts are disclosed only to law enforcement, most states provide these details to the public, often over the Internet, because of community notification laws. 

Residency restriction laws impose another layer of control, subjecting people convicted of sexual offenses as children to a range of rules about where they may live. Failure to adhere to registration, community notification, or residency restriction laws can lead to a felony conviction for failure to register, with lasting consequences for a young person’s life. 

This report challenges the view that registration laws and related restrictions are an appropriate response to sex offenses committed by children. The authors argue that, even acknowledging the considerable harm that youth offenders can cause, these requirements operate as, in effect, continued punishment of the offender. While the law does not formally recognize registration as a punishment, the cases of many youth sex offenders detailed in this report illustrate the often devastating impact it has on the youth offenders and their families. The authors point out that, contrary to common public perceptions, the empirical evidence suggests that putting youth offenders on registries does not advance community safety—including because it overburdens law enforcement with large numbers of people to monitor, undifferentiated by their dangerousness.