File this under “Terrible Idea”. (As opposed to this “Great Idea”: An Interesting Alternative to Prison)
Over the weekend, the front page of the NY Times ran an article about criminal registries. A few states and local districts are considering online registries for criminals similar to the online sex offender registry.
The offenses being considered as grounds for registration range from arson to animal abuse.
The basic arguments for the registry are that the public has the right to know and make decisions about law breakers in their neighborhoods. If I don’t want to live near a dangerous (or not so dangerous criminal) I have that right.
The basic arguments against the registry? There are quite a few.
What is the point of the registry?
To protect those who know about it? Does it really protect them? Are you really less safe around a a known offender than an unknown offender?
To isolate the offenders? So that they have nowhere to live? No where to work? Will that help them get their lives back together? If no one moves near the offenders and no one gives them jobs because they are on a list, how will they reintegrate into society?
There is a registry for drunk drivers in Maine. How in the world does this help or protect anyone? Drunk drivers can drive anywhere they want. And they are probably more likely to drive drunk near the bars than near their homes.
There is a registry to murderers proposed in Illinois. Murder recidivism rates are very very low. That means that if a convicted murderer is released from prison they are very unlikely to commit another murder. So a list of murderers has low utility but creates huge stigma.
Not to mention the cost. These lists are very expensive to set up and maintain.
Don’t these kinds of lists also give rise to vigilantism? I don’t know. But the more lists we have, the greater risk there is for offenders.
Also, at least in LA, most crime happens in certain neighborhoods between specific groups of people. (You know what I mean…) Registries of those kinds of offenders seem pretty useless to me. Spending tons of money to basically have a public list of gang members? Who rarely venture out of their own neighborhoods?
But most of all, the registries represent an absolute lack of faith in our criminal justice system. If criminals who have gone through the system are still dangerous, then the system has failed them. Why put them behind bars at all if they are the same person who went in?
If we are aware that the system is failing then the solution is certainly not to make a list of all the people for whom the system failed. It’s TO FIX THE SYSTEM. Legislation for registries makes law makers appear tough on crime. Tough on crime accomplishes nothing in the long term. Registries aren’t even tough on crime, they APPEAR to be tough on crime. We don’t need faux toughness to solve our criminal justice issues. We need reform.
The suggestion of these registries is a wake up call. Our system needs fixing. Rehabilitate criminals. Create social solutions to battle the factors that create crime. Get involved in the high crime neighborhoods and instead of counting collars, count crimes prevented.
Registries are a wasteful way of pretending to solve a problem. Sorry, it’s not going to work. Try again.
Link: NY Times