The Facts About Youth Registration

In 39 states, laws exist that require children as young as 8 years old to be placed on sex offender registries, often for life, when adjudicated of what the courts deem sexual crimes. Since this practice began in the 90s, decades of research have proven that placing youth on registries is not just ineffective but harmful to all parties involved. While registration and notification sentences marginalize and label youth, they do nothing to benefit society or protect children from future sexual harm.

The nation has reached a turning point in the way the criminal justice system views young people, who for decades were little more than an after thought, treated simply like miniature adults. Over the past year, we celebrated a Supreme Court ruling that gives people serving life without parole for crimes committed as kids a chance at release, as well as a presidential ban on solitary confinement for the those under-18 in federal prisons. CYRR’s mission is to make youth registration next on the reform agenda.

The question is not whether we have gone too far — that point was passed long ago. The question now is when and how we will find our way out.

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Youth Registration in the U.S.


A pressing problem

Recent figures show there are close to 850,000 people of all ages on sex offender registries in the United States; roughly 200,000 were placed on the registry for offenses that took place under the age of 18.

Destroyed childhoods

When youth are put on registries, their names, photos and addresses are often made public, leading to vigilante violence, stigmatization, severe psychological harm, homelessness and unemployment. One in five attempt suicide.

Wasted resources 

Studies have shown the country spends upward of $3 billion on registering and tracking kids. Tax-payer  money would be better spent on prevention and intervention services that actually reduce sexual violence.

Registration Laws Cause Lifelong Harm


Violence
52%
of youth registrants and their families are the targets of vigilante violence, including threats to their lives.

Psychological Harm
85%
report serious psychological harm as a result of registration. 1 in 5 attempt suicide. Many succeed.

Barriers to Housing
44%
of children on the registry experience homelessness due to “safety zone” restrictions.

Disrupted Families
77%
reported that registration not only impacted the registrant but significantly harmed their families.


Understanding Youth Sexual Behavior

 

Common behavior

For the most part, youth offenses are for normative sexual behavior, including touching, “playing doctor,” streaking, sexting and teenage Romeo and Juliet romances. While serious intentional harm does occur, it’s much less common.

Trace reoccurrence rates

A meta-analysis of studies found more than 95 percent of adjudicated youth never commit another sexual offense. Child psychology experts say children are less likely to have fixed behavioral patterns and usually “grow out of” concerning conduct.

 

Registering Harm

A survey of 500 cases showed 100 percent of youth registrants had experienced some form of abuse or neglect in the year preceding the offense, highlighting the false binary that exists between whom we label victims and perpetrators.

 


A Path Forward


Shifting sentiment

A recent national poll surveying more than 4,800 people found that 69 percent of respondents disagree with including minors on registries.

New legislation

More than half a dozen states are considering legislation that would remove youth from registries, joining the 11 states that have never done so.

Supreme Court intervention

State Supreme Courts in Ohio and Pennsylvania in recent years have ruled mandatory registration for minors is unconstitutional.

Join the movement to end youth registration. Stay up-to-date.