By Jim Hagerty
Illinois would better serve victims and offenders if juveniles were removed from state sex offender registries, according to a study released Tuesday, March 25, by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.
The 150-page “Improving Illinois’ Response to Sexual Offenses Committed by Youth” is based on current laws and interviews with victims, offenders and those charged with their rehabilitation.
Based on the findings, the commission claims placing juvenile offenders in sex offender databases does not increase public safety, victim support and offender accountability.
“Research indicates that strategies used with adults — principally sex offender registries and residency/employment restrictions — are not only unnecessary as applied to youth, but also counterproductive, as they often jeopardize victim confidentiality and can interfere with youth rehabilitation to an extent that undermines the long-term safety and well-being of our communities,” the report states.
“The increased availability of high-quality, reliable, youth-specific research findings presents an exceptional opportunity to align law and practice with expert consensus about best practices for responding to youth sex offenses. Most importantly, research over the last few decades has conclusively established that youth are highly amenable to treatment and highly unlikely to sexually re-offend.”
The report was made under a state law passed in 2012 requiring the commission to study and recommend effective treatment and rehabilitation programs for youth sex offenders.
“The General Assembly called for this study because legislators recognized that discussions of this topic often are charged with emotion but lack solid information about young people committing sexual offenses and about proven methods of treatment and supervision of these youth,” said Commission Chairman George W. Timberlake, a retired chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit.
“Without minimizing the harm experienced by victims of sexual offending, our research makes clear that most youth sexual offending has roots in developmental issues such as immaturity, developmental delays, deficits in social skills and difficulties coping with prior sexual abuse,” Timberlake said.
Overview of findings
According to the commission, the number of youth arrested for sex crimes in Illinois is small and on the decline. In 2010, 232 juveniles were arrested while 434 youth offenders were charged in 2004. However, the number of juveniles on the Illinois Sex Offender Registry has increased 28 percent since 2008. Although arrests during the study period fell by half, the number on the registry increased because of the high proportion of youth required to register for life. That, the report says, underlines the ineffectiveness of juvenile registration.
“There is no persuasive evidence that placing youth on sex offender registries prevents re-offending, but the registry requirements can undermine the long-term well-being of victims, families, youth and communities,” the report said. “Illinois should implement evidence-informed policies for professionals who work with victims and youth offenders, provide individualized, community-based, family-focused treatments and services and repeal counter-productive sex offender registration requirements and categorical restrictions for young people.”
As of Dec. 4, 2013, there were 2,553 individuals on Illinois’ Sex Offender Registry as a result of being adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense. Of those, 1,783 (70 percent) must register for life while the other 769 (30 percent) are required to register for 10 years.
The commission also notes research on adolescent brain studies that show youth are still gaining capacity to make adult decisions and control sexual impulses. It is also noted that the majority of youth offenses involve family members.
Posted March 26, 2014