Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sex offender panic reaching juve offenders

A helpful reader sent me a link to this article detailing that Florida has now put its juvenile offenders on its sex offender registry. Here are the basics:

Young teens convicted of sex crimes behind the closed doors of juvenile court will now end up on the state's public registry of sex offenders. A state law that went into effect July 1 will list teens as young as 14 on the same Web site as adults who are convicted pedophiles and sexual predators. The designation will follow them and their families as they enter schools, move to new communities and eventually apply for colleges, trade schools and jobs.

Some public defenders and legal experts describe the law as revolutionary because it makes public the actions of juvenile court. They say it may hinder rehabilitation of those who commit relatively minor offenses by publicly labeling them as sex offenders. Public defenders plan to challenge the law, saying it sentences juveniles as adults without allowing jury trials.

And some specialists in the field say parents, often the first to learn of teens' sex crimes, may be reluctant to seek help for their children if they will be labeled and their families' homes identified on the sex offender list. "Their names, their home address, and other information are going to be there for the public to see," said Jan Abee, who is helping the Department of Juvenile Justice carry out the law. "That means a lot for their families, too, because they'll be living at the same address."

Florida legislators unanimously approved the measure to comply with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and to qualify for millions of dollars in federal funding. The Adam Walsh Act, which went into effect last year, requires children 14 and older who engage in genital, anal or oral-genital contact with children younger than 12 to be included in community-notification laws, such as the predator list. The intent of the federal law, according to state officials, was to add juveniles who use force or coercion while committing sex crimes to the state and national sex offender lists.

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