When Sex Offender Registries were all the rage, despite their fundamentally false premise that people needed to know where sex offenders lived to protect the children from this uncontrollable animals, they were an easy sell to an angry public. But after they were created, after the rules were formed, the shame was established, where else would they go?
In Kansas, drugs seemed like a good idea.
[U]nder Kansas law, having a drug conviction means that her photograph and other identifying details are displayed in the same public registry that includes more than 10,000 convicted sex offenders. Many registrants also appear on third-party websites like “Offender Radar” and “Sex Offender Spy,” and it’s easy for a visitor to miss the single word—“drug”—that differentiates Byers’s crime from those the public judges much more harshly. “People who don’t know me are going to look at me like I’m a horrible person for being on that list,” she said.
So what if it’s called the “Sex Offender Registry,” which would be bad enough if a person was a sex offender. Or even a kid who peed against a wall, or had sex with another kid her own age. Drugs? What the hell would someone convicted of a drug offense be doing on a sex offender registry?
Kansas: Why not?
There is, of course, a lengthy list of reasons why not, foremost of which is that they’re not sex offenders (and certainly not the sort of sex offender people imagine when thinking about sex offenders), but they are nonetheless named, shamed and reviled for nothing more than being on the registry. But it doesn’t end there.
Lawmakers have long justified sex offender registries as a way to notify people about potentially dangerous neighbors or acquaintances, while critics say they fail to prevent crime and create a class of social outcasts. Over the years, several states have expanded their registries to add perpetrators of other crimes, including kidnapping, assault, and murder. Tennessee added animal abuse. Utah added white-collar crimes. A few states considered but abandoned plans for hate crime and domestic abuse registries. At least five states publicly display methamphetamine producers.
But no slope was as slippery as Kansas’.
But Kansas went furthest, adding an array of lesser drug crimes; roughly 4,600 people in the state are now registered as drug offenders. As deaths from opioids rise, some public officials have focused on addiction as a public health issue. Kansas offers a different approach, as law enforcement officials argue that the registry helps keep track of people who may commit new offenses and cautions the public to avoid potentially dangerous areas and individuals. At the same time, many registrants say it can be hard to move on when their pasts are just a click away for anyone to see.
Kansas cops argue that they need dope fiends on the Sex Offender Registry so they can “keep track” of them in case they reoffend, to avoid “potential dangerous areas and individuals”? Not only is that rationale substantively vapid, but applies to any claim. Convicted criminals are presumably more likely to be criminal-ish, and that could mean . . . criminal stuff.
All those countervailing concerns, like not reoffending, getting a job, becoming a productive member of society and moving on with your life after paying your debt to society are not merely stymied by such empty and inflammatory nonsense, but affirmatively made more difficult, if not impossible.
The burdens imposed by Registries aggressively impair the ability of people to do the very things we want them to, we demand they do.
The Kansas law, first passed in 2007, now requires anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing “with intent to distribute” drugs other than marijuana to remain on the registry for a minimum of 15 years (and a maximum of life, for multiple convictions). During that time, they must appear at their county sheriff’s office four times a year, as well as any time they move, get a new job, email address, vehicle, or tattoo. Most of this information is online, searchable by name or neighborhood, and members of the public can sign up to be emailed when an offender moves in or starts work near them. (In 2013, when businesses expressed fear of vigilantes targeting registrants at work, lawmakers removed employment addresses from the website.)
During the quarterly sheriff visits, they must pay $20 and have their picture retaken; if they work or go to school in another county, they must register there as well. “Any time I get a new job, I have to say, ‘Sorry, I need time off,’ in the first 72 hours,” said Juston Kerns, 35, arrested for involvement in the sale of methamphetamine in 2014.
Before you trash the drug seller as unworthy of an iota of your concern, consider that many addicts sell small quantities of drugs to pay for their own use. They’re not drug kingpins, but trying to cover their fix. Big deal. It’s not good, which is why they were arrested and convicted, but they aren’t Tony Montana either.
And yet, it’s not merely about whether drug dealers deserve to be on a Registry, or deserve to to have their futures ended by making employment and a normal life after their sentence is completed impossible. It’s that they’re on a list for sex offenders.
Bad as it may be that they be on any registry at all, or that any registry for anyone exists given the vast needless harm they cause to the very people we want not to reoffend, tainting them with the unwarranted shame and revulsion of a sex offense conviction elevates their inclusion to an incomprehensible level.
Registries are ineffective and counterproductive. Putting drug felons on a sex offender registry is just bizarre and a fresh level of stupid. So naturally, Kansas thought was a great idea. After all, they already have a registry so why not make the most of it?