Monday, April 9, 2012

Why the Cherokee Nation needs to reject the Adam Walsh Act


This was one of my four articles written for The Examiner before they decided to discriminate against me. So I'm republishing it here 

Privatizing the sex offender registry puts you and your children at risk




 "Once you're on a publicly accessible registry, your life is pretty much shot." -- US Representative Bobby Scott, during the March 10, 2009 Congressional SORNA Hearing
When I read the article "AG Office warns council on sex offender bill" in the Cherokee Phoenix,  I was disappointed to learn that the Cherokee nation is debating the issue of sovereignty versus passing a feel good law that will actually harm many native tribesmen.
The Adam Walsh Act was a stagnant bill until it was championed through Congress by John Walsh and Mark Foley in 2006. The bill bypassed standard Congressional procedure by abusing "Suspension of the Rules," which allows certain bills to pass through legislatures without a full debate or review. Those who voted on the bill did not even know what was in the bill.
The AWA imposes a negative penalty on those who refuse to adopt this bill. For states, this means facing a 10% of Federal law enforcement grants (known as Byrne/JAG). Apparently the negative penalty extends to sovereign tribes as well, as mentioned in your article. However, to give into federal demands would be willingly relinquishing that sovereignty anyway, as they are forcing a bad law upon your tribe.
As of February 2012, 15 states and 9 Native American tribes are "substantially compliant" with the AWA. However, of those 15 states, two of them, Missouri and Kansas, are reconsidering their compliant status. Some traditionally tough-on-crime states, like Texas, California, and Arizona, have publicly stated they have no plans to pass this law.
There are a few major criticisms of this law. The first major criticism is the AWA demands children as young as age 14 to be listed on the public registry. Teens caught in consensual relationships (known as "Romeo and Juliet," or R&J) or "sexting" have landed on public registries across the US. Second, the AWA is expensive, with costs of implementation far outweighing that 10% cuts the federal government imposes on those who refuse to comply.
A major part of the expense of the AWA comes from the reclassification of registrants. When Ohio and Oklahoma changed their registration laws in an attempt to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, the number of people who were listed on the highest tier, the "Tier 3" or "High-Risk" category rose dramatically overnight. In Oklahoma, that number jumped from about 25% to 78% overnight. They did nothing to warrant that change. While most states utilize risk assessment evaluations, the AWA uses an offense-based classification. In other words, the AWA classifies on the basis of how the crime is defined by the state. Instead of streamlining this process across the USA, it has made things worse.
During one congressional meeting in March 2009, a spokesperson for Louisiana stated that a teen having consensual relations with other teens would be forced to register for 25 years.
I should not even have to mention the destructive power of being listed on the sex offender registry. It is a social death sentence. People won't hire you, rent to you, or date you. If you have a wife and kids, they suffer with you. You live in fear of vigilante attacks or politicians passing the next feel-good law against you to pander for votes.
Rejecting the Adam Walsh Act is not about being "soft" but "smart" on crime. Education and prevention programs proven to reduce the prevalence of sexual offending in society do inded exist, like Stop It Now or the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. However, these level-headed programs are ignored in favor of revenge-motivated law enforcement and an industry that sells us a false sense of security.
This list is very expensive to maintain. The state of Ohio reported they spent over $10 million in legal defense and reclassification of registrants as a result of the Adam Walsh Act.Ohio spends $40,000 a month to Offender Watch just to maintain the oline registry. This does not even count the cost of complience checks or notification, just the cost of the registry. 
The public registry fails us because we have grown to rely on a list that only shows us at most 5% of the problem. About 95% of sex crime arrests are of people with no prior sex crime arrests. Furthermore, about 95% of those on the public registry never re-offend, but it has nothing to do with the registry. In fact, studies suggest the public registry may actually create an environment that makes people more likely to re-offend.
If the Cherokee Nation wants to protect children, don't adopt the Adam Walsh Act. If the Cherokee Nation wants autonomy from American interference, then don't adopt the AWA. 
Learn more about the dangers of the Adam Walsh Act by visiting Once Fallen's Adam Walsh Act fact guide.

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