SPRINGFIELD — Requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders impairs rehabilitation efforts for a crime that very few of them ever commit again, according to a study released Tuesday.
The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission's report recommends ending the practice of making offenders younger than 17 add their names to sex-offender registries, which can negatively affect an offender for years. Every juvenile convicted of a sex crime must register, and 70 percent of the 2,553 currently registered must do so for life, the report said.
The 150-page review of laws and treatment practices regarding juvenile sex crimes calls for the state to abolish the categorical requirement for young offenders' registration. The report, which the General Assembly requested in 2012, says sex crimes committed in youth are seldom repeated in adulthood and that individualized, community-based treatment plans are highly effective and more productive than incarceration.
"Automatic, categorical registries do not protect public safety," commission chairman George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge from Mount Vernon, told The Associated Press. "There's no evidentiary basis that says they do and more importantly, they have very negative consequences in the effects they have on the offenders' life, and perhaps the victim's life."
Timberlake said the victim, often a family member, loses confidentiality through offender registration and can also suffer from not being able to resume a familial relationship with an offender who is required to register. He added that a registry might be appropriate based on risk. Many states offer courts flexibility.
The report recommends developing statewide standards and training for courts and law enforcement professionals for intervening with young sex offenders and victims. It also calls for a consistent assessment tool for evaluating risks an individual juvenile poses. Also, the report says, offenders whenever possible should be kept in treatment programs in their homes that involve parents as opposed to locking them up.
There were 232 juveniles arrested for sex crimes in Illinois in 2010, down from 434 in 2004. Timberlake said only a few dozen of those were incarcerated for their crimes. He said locking the juveniles up should be a last resort for reasons including the state Juvenile Justice Department not having enough money to provide proper treatment.
More than half of juvenile sex offenders are younger than 14, he said.
"They're very young," Timberlake said. "Most of this conduct can be explained by a lack of maturity, literally, developmental disabilities, a lack of social skills, or that they were abused themselves."