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Juveniles crowd Michigan sex offender registry

2-10-2010 Michigan:

Nearly eight percent of Michigan’s sex offender population is made up of juveniles, according to statistics compiled by the Michigan State Police in response to a public records request from the Michigan Messenger.

The statistics further reveal that the state’s youngest registered sex offenders are 9 years old. The state counts a total of 3,563 juvenile sex offenders on the registry, all of whom were adjudicated through the state’s juvenile court system.

All sex offenders in Michigan -– juveniles and adults alike -– face a minimum of 25 years on the state registry, along with requirements to check-in regularly with law enforcement and other restrictions. The maximum registration requirement is life.

While there are relatively few 9-12 year olds on the registry (145 cases adjudicated) there are many more registered teenage sex offenders age 13-16 (2,007 cases). See the complete breakdown by age here.

“It’s shocking,” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, referring to the juvenile sex offender statistics. “I’m pretty surprised at the numbers. They’re bigger than I thought they would be.”

As of November, 45,164 Michigan residents were registered sex offenders, giving the state the distinction of having the third highest ratio of sex offenders of any state in the country. According to the state’s Sex Offender Registry Act, all violations of the state’s Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) laws -– not just rape or child molestation -– require the perpetrator to be on the sex offender list.

Most of the juvenile sex offenders are likely only listed on the private or “law enforcement-only” registry -– not the public online registry -– but they are still subject to the quarterly registration requirements. Further penalties loom if the registrant fails to check-in on time with law enforcement.

Under the provisions of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act that Michigan must comply with later this year, the state may have to do away with the private registry all together -– which could force most juvenile sex offenders onto the online registry for the duration of their registration requirements.

“Under Adam Walsh, all those kids over 14 would be on the public registry,” said Weisberg. “Every single one of them.”

The federal sex offender definition excludes juveniles less than 14 years old.

Moreover, critics of the state registry often point to the employment- and housing-denying stigma that accompanies extended punishment on the public registry long after consensual but underage sex, or other non-violent sex crimes, has triggered an offense.

One critic, a member of the Coalition for a Useful Registry and the mother of a juvenile sex offender, argues that juvenile offenders are treated more harshly than offenders age 17-21. She spoke only on the condition that her name would not be published due to fear that any publicity could harm her son.

She noted that in the state’s adult court system, 17 to 21-year-olds are able to petition a judge to avoid the sex offender registry and even have their convictions expunged under the provisions of the state Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA) if they successfully complete the terms of their probation. Juvenile offenders adjudicated in juvenile court, however, aren’t eligible to be granted so-called “youthful trainee” status.

“Some of our youngest juveniles are getting some of the worst sentences in all of this,” she said, adding that “for the most part, these cases come down to youthful curiosity.”

“And yet they’re made to look like the worst of the worst,” she said. “I just think we’re writing off some young lives long before we ever should be.”

She added that it would be “a real eye-opener” to many state lawmakers that so many pre-teen and teenage juvenile offenders are on the state’s sex offender registry.

Another mother of a juvenile sex offender who also spoke on the condition her name wouldn’t be published, noted that the petitioning process via HYTA was originally designed to emulate juvenile adjudication and allow some young offenders to avoid the harsh, long-term consequences of being listed on the public registry. But since 1988 and unlike many other states, juvenile records in Michigan are public.

“The kids don’t have the ability to get HYTA unless their lawyer is savvy enough to say, ‘Hey, let’s have this case heard in adult court,’ and the prosecutor says, ‘Ok, that would be better,’” she said. “The juveniles are getting left behind.”

This second mother, also involved with efforts to reform the state’s sex offender laws, says she sees a paradox in how a juvenile system meant to protect children can often have the reverse effect.

“I’ve always found it ironic that we talk the talk in terms of creating sex offender legislation that we’ve got to protect our children, but then when we come along and pass these laws and we forget that the kind of people we need to protect from these laws are juveniles,” she said. “We forget that.” ..Source.. by David Alire Garcia

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