Wisconsin Sex Offender Registration Laws Balance Offenders’ and Victims’ Rights

Wisconsin's sex offender registration laws have come under fire recently in light of a highly publicized expose performed by Milwaukee's "12 News" team that revealed that roughly half of the state's roughly 20,000 registered sex offenders are under little or no direct law enforcement supervision. That means that they - once their jail terms, court-ordered therapy and probationary periods are completed - are essentially free to move about the state unimpeded. This is good news for those whose sex offenses were a one-time crime and they have already been appropriately punished and rehabilitated, but raises alarms for some parents and children's rights organizations.

The registry requires that people who were "sentenced, in an institutional setting, discharged or on field supervision" for a sex-related crime provide their name, date of birth, address, place of employment or school enrollment, email or website addresses and a DNA sample to the Wisconsin State Department of Corrections. Victims' right advocates claim that the registry is vital to keeping children across the state safe by giving parents, teachers and other responsible adults a way to "keep tabs" on convicted offenders.

Logic and statistics support the opposite position, however - recidivism rates for even violent sex offenders are only between 10 and 15 percent, which is actually much lower than many other crimes - and putting generalized restrictions on the movement of everyone convicted of a sex-related crime is akin to double jeopardy for those who have already served their sentence. Unfortunately, a conviction for a sex-related offense is in some ways like a life sentence; there is the possibility of lifelong registration, public stigma and the loss of housing, job and educational opportunities. With such potentially harsh consequences on the line, it is vitally important for anyone facing a sex crimes charge have a skilled criminal defense attorney fighting to protect their rights.