Indeed, writes Jennings, "according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of the Texas sex offender registry, there are about 4,000 people on the registry who were younger than 18 at the time of their crime, including 1,004 younger than 14." Even folks over at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault were "stunned" that children so young were required to register. I actually was aware (from reading the law) that it was possible for children that young to wind up on the registry, but I had no idea that one-quarter of the juveniles registered were under 14 when they committed their offense.
The faces of child sex offenders are startling – chubby cheeks, big eyes, a mop of hair, or wispy strands held back with barrettes. The descriptions on Texas' public registry are equally jolting: 4 feet tall, 65 pounds; 4 feet, 2 inches, 70 pounds.
"Those are not the people that we're walking around terrified of," says Michele Deitch, a University of Texas law professor.
The inclusion of children as young as 10 on the state's public sex offender registry is a little-known policy – even to juvenile justice experts such as Deitch.
"I'm absolutely a little bit shocked that kids that young can be on the list," says Deitch, who teaches juvenile justice policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
She's stunned because public registration contradicts the purpose of juvenile justice: to give kids a second chance. In the case of some juvenile sex offenders, their criminal records are off limits, but information about their crime is easily accessible on the Internet.
"It is a terrible situation," Deitch says. "The juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate kids and to make sure that they can change."
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there is no minimum age for inclusion on the state list. But a child must be at least 10 to be handled by the state juvenile justice system, so a judge may order an offender that young to register.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Texas sex offender registry includes kids as young as ten
In the Dallas News this morning, Diane Jennings has a story on Texas' policy of allowing judges to place juveniles as young as 10 years old on the sex offender registry ("Some say sex offender registry ruins a juvenile's 2nd chance," July 19). Here's how the article opens: