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Do sex offender registries do more harm than good?

If there’s one instantly notable fact about the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry, it is that it is certainly comprehensive and easily accessible. In fact, any reader jumping online and entering the search term will be awash in details about the program and the offenders who are listed on the registry.

And North Carolina, of course, is hardly singular for the sheer amount of information that the public can glean from such a registry. Sex offender registries are a mainstay across the country; reportedly, there are nearly 800,000 offenders listed nationally.

And that lists just keeps on growing, fueled by congressional action two decades ago that mandated sex offender registries, and subsequent state action across the country.

A researcher who spent considerable time looking at registry laws for the global organization Human Rights Watch notes that the United States is the only nation to have a public sex offender registry.

That researcher and many other people believe that the registries across the country are misguided and actually undermine rather than promote the goal of adequately monitoring and deterring dangerous offenders who are likely to reoffend.

The reason: The registries are stated to be overly inclusive, routinely lumping together all persons who have ever been convicted of a sex crime in an undifferentiated manner that unjustly harms those who can be rehabilitated and are unlikely to ever offend again. At the same time, and because of the lack of strong and particularized scrutiny on violent and high-risk offenders, those persons often fly under the radar, evading the watch of overtaxed law enforcement officials.

Opponents of registries say that they are just as concerned as those who favor registries with identifying and dealing with truly dangerous offenders. Where they differ is in their belief that abolishing registries will better free up resources to accomplish that aim.

Source: NBC News, "My son, the sex offender: one mother's mission to fight the law," Tony Dokoupil, May 6, 2014

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