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Is Hawaii’s sex offender registry doing more harm than good?

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Hawaii, like all states, has a registry of all resident sex offenders, and this registry is available to the public. This came about in the 1990s, after a series of high-profile violent crimes involving repeat offenders who did terrible things to children. The public wanted to take action to make sure crimes like these never happened again, and so Congress decided to require all states to create sex offender registries, so that the authorities and the public at large could keep an eye on dangerous people.

Decades later, it’s not at all clear that these registries work as they were intended. There’s even evidence that they may be making things worse.

Hawaii’s registration law

Hawaii’s sex offender registry law is broad, covering anyone who has been convicted of a sexual offense or a non-sexual offense against a minor. If ordered to register, a person must provide the authorities with regular updates and must notify them every time they move. Some offenders may petition to have themselves taken off the registry after the have passed certain requirements, but otherwise the registration requirement continues for the rest of their lives.

The crimes covered by the registration requirement are not necessarily violent or indicative of a mental disorder. In some cases, covered offenses can include sex between two teenagers, teenagers sharing nude photos, or even cases of public urination. People convicted of these crimes don’t necessarily pose any special risk to the community, and yet they are treated more or less the same as some of the state’s most dangerous criminals.

Making things worse?

Registration can interfere with a person’s life in an untold number of ways. Because the registry is available to the public, that means anyone — employers, landlords, neighbors, potential friends and more — may find out about a person’s history and choose to distance themselves. This can make it extremely difficult for registrants to find and keep employment or suitable housing.

Some studies have suggested that this harsh situation puts registrants under so much stress that some offenders are actually more likely to re-offend. If this is true, then it means the registration laws are actually worsening a problem they were intended to stop.

Those who are facing sex crime charges should be aware of how the registration requirement can affect them.