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Published in the City Club of Portland Bulletin, Vol. 97, No. 8, November 5, 2014

As a society, we have chosen to treat sex offenders differently from other types of offenders in an effort to protect the vulnerable. No other crimes carry the possibility of lifetime registration with law enforcement. Twenty years ago, when Congress passed the first national sex offender legislation, our country was just beginning to talk about sexual assault and abuse, a difficult conversation that continues today. Policymakers did not have the benefit of today’s extensive research on sex crimes and offenders, especially sex offenders who offend before the age 18 (“juvenile offenders”). With few facts available, policymakers legislated out of fear and based policy on false assumptions about juvenile sex offenders.

Oregon is one of thirty-eight states that include juvenile offenders in the sex offender registry (Oregon includes juvenile offenders who commit “felony sex offenses”), and one of only six that automatically includes juvenile offenders for life, or until they apply for relief.1 Approximately 3,000 of the more than 25,000 offenders on Oregon’s registry committed their offense when they were juveniles.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature established a new system for registering and monitoring adult sex offenders. The legislation does not affect the registration of juvenile offenders. Your committee was charged with answering the question, “Should the Oregon Legislature modify the process or requirements for including in the state’s sex offender registry people who committed sex offenses while juveniles?”

Your committee came to this volatile issue with the hope of broadening the discussion beyond the criminal justice community. We studied the growing body of research on juvenile offenders, as well as literature on adolescent brain development. We interviewed witnesses from every part of the juvenile justice system, as well as treatment providers, legislators and advocates for both youth offenders and victims’ rights. We engaged in passionate debates, which we believe enrich our conclusions and recommendations.

Unequivocally, we find that Oregon’s registration of young sex offenders adjudicated in juvenile court is deeply flawed. Perhaps the greatest flaws are that (1) the law currently subjects juvenile offenders to lifetime registration and (2) does so before offenders receive, and hopefully respond to treatment. As we discuss in the Report, these flaws harm juvenile offenders and the public.

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