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Collateral Effects of Registration

Guy Hamilton-Smith, JD

Kentucky Citizens and Families for Reform

Collateral Effects of Registration

As of 2016, more than 800,000 men, women, and
children listed on a sex offender registry in the
United States. At a time when the general trend in
the political landscape has been to reduce the
number of people who are incarcerated, rolls of
SORs have expanded rapidly, and will likely
continue to expand for the foreseeable future.
While no one seeks to diminish or minimize the
harm caused by those on the registry, the
question of the effects of registration is becoming
more and more relevant to sound public policy.

The effects of registration as a sex offender can

thought of as falling into one of two categories:
either the direct, legal effects of registration or the collateral and indirect effects. The legal effects are
those that are imposed by state or federal law, whereas the collateral effects are those that tend to flow
from the legal requirements of registration. The line between these two categories is not always easily
defined. This brief is meant to present some of the major empirical data that exists regarding the
collateral effects that sex offender registration imposes on the person who is required to register, as well
as their families. This brief breaks down effects into four categories: vigilantism, psychological
consequences, employment & housing, and participation in civic life

The information contained in this brief comes from three primary sources. The first, which is preferable,
is the growing body of peer-reviewed, published literature examining the consequences of registration.
The second are news articles and reports (particularly when it comes to vigilantism). The final source is
the author’s own experiences having been on the sex offender registry since 2007.

SORA brands registrants as moral lepers solely on the basis of a prior conviction. It
consigns them to years, if not a lifetime, of existence on the margins, not only of society,
but often, as the record in this case makes painfully evident, from their own families, with
whom, due to school zone restrictions, they may not even live. It directly regulates where
registrants may go in their daily lives and compels them to interrupt those lives with
great frequency in order to appear in person before law enforcement to report even
minor changes to their information.

-Does v. Snyder, 834 F.3d 696, 704 (6th Cir. 2016), majority opinion by Hon. Alice Batchelder
declaring Michigan’s changes to its sex offender registry scheme unconstitutional.


Vigilantism, in this context, can be characterized as any extra-judicial
direct action undertaken by civilians that is intended to intimidate,
harass, injure, or kill people who are on the registry for no reason other
than their presence on the registry. Given the relative unpopularity of people who are on the registry, the
widespread acceptance of the myth that most sex offenders re-offend, and the public nature of the
information re disclosed by the state, it is perhaps unsurprising that many individuals on the registry and
their families have been targeted by vigilantes.

According to one study, 48% of those on the registry report being physically threatened due to their
status as registrants and 11% report being directly physically harmed.1 Slightly more than a quarter of
those on the registry report property damage tied to their registration, 33% reported someone who lived
with them was threatened, harassed, assaulted or injured.2

Despite the inclusion of disclaimers on SORA websites

warning against using the registry to harass those on it,
I wouldn’t say this in some
such instances obviously occur.3 Perhaps the most
crowds, but we have
dramatic example of vigilantism are those cases where
p e o p l e o n t h e re g i s t r y h a v e b e e n m u rd e re d . documented cases of
Comprehensive data regarding how many people on the vigilantism with people going to
registry are murdered is not available, but cursory the wrong house or beating up
searches via LexisNexis and Google indicate that the the wrong guy. That’s what I
number is not insubstantial:
was afraid of. We are supposed
to be stopping violence, not
* Hank Esses & Victor Vasquez (both murdered by
promoting it, and what does it
Michael Mullen in 2005)4

* William Elliot & Joseph Gray (2006, murdered by promote when you tell everyone
Stephen Marshall. Elliot was on the registry for a where these guys live?
“Romeo & Juliet” offense. At the time of his murder, -Illinois legislator on
he was residing with his “victim.”5
vigilantism, from Bonnar-Kidd,
* Melissa Chandler — 2007, wife of individual 2010
suspected of possessing child pornography, died in
fire when house was set ablaze by vigilantes6

1Shea Alvarez & Jill Levenson, The Impact of Specialized Sex Offender Legislation on Community Reentry, 20 Sex.
Abus. A J. Res. Treat. 188–205 (2008).

2 Id.

3Kelly K. Bonnar-Kidd, 100 Sexual offender laws and prevention of sexual violence or recidivism American Journal
of Public Health 412–419 (2010).

4Mike Carter, Letters tells killer’s reasoning for slaying 2 pedophiles, Seattle Times, September 15, 2005 http://

5Gitika Ahuja, Sex Offender Registries: Putting Lives At Risk?, ABC News, April 18, 2006,

6Associated Press, Police: Vigilante justice led to unintended death, NBC News, September 14, 2007 http://


* Gary Blanton & Jerry Ray murdered by Patrick Drum in 2012, stated that he had plans to kill more if
he was not caught7

* Charles & Gretchen Parker (2013, husband and wife murdered by Jeremy and Christine Moody
because of Charles’ placement on the registry — they stated to officers that planned to kill more
before they were caught)8

This is not an exhaustive list of people who have been killed due to their (or a loved one’s) presence on
the registry, but are cases located by this author after a fairly cursory search. Lesser offenses, such as
assaults and terroristic threatening are likely much more numerous than the more serious crimes
reported above. Additionally, in this author’s experience, those on the registry may be less likely to report
instances of vigilantism.

In light of the foregoing, perhaps it is not surprising that Psychological

registration carries with it fairly significant psychological
penalties, over and above those which might accompany Consequences
the conviction of another type of criminal offense.

The author’s experience of being on the SOR is that there are a tapestry of laws, policies, and
regulations that make it impossible to move beyond one’s offense in the same sense that other
criminal offenders are afforded. While the public stocks were done away with Other sorts of
offenders are allowed to be ex-felons, ex-cons, etc, and are
Due to the public nature of afforded the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the
SORN laws, sex offenders passage of time. This has not been this author’s experience
are constantly reminded- — that regardless of the passage of time, the status of
sometimes daily-of the being a sex offender is something that is current,
crime that they committed. represents the most salient fact about a person, and makes
no difference if the offense was ten days or ten years ago.9

-Excerpted from Frenzel,

et al. (2014) Shaming punishments have a rich and storied history in the
United States, perhaps owing to our puritan roots. In his
2015 book discussing the phenomena of public shaming in the modern era, journalist and
author Jon Ronson explored the origins of public shaming in America, writing:

The common assumption is that public punishments died out in the new
great metropolises because they’d been judged useless. Everyone was too

7Russell Goldman, Washington Man Who Killed Two Rapists Gets Life Sentence, ABC News, Sept. 19, 2012 http://

8Eliott McLaughlin & Marlena Baldacci, Neo-Nazis feign remorse, taunt family of murdered sex offender, CNN News,
May 8, 2014,

9 Erika Davis Frenzel et al., Understanding collateral consequences of registry laws  : An examination of the
perceptions of sex offender registrants, 11 Justice Policy J. 1–22 (2014).


busy being industrious to bother to trail a transgressor through the city

crowds. But according to the documents I found that wasn’t it at all. They
didn’t fizzle out because they were ineffective. They were stopped
because they were far too brutal.

The movement against public shamings was already in full flow in March
1787 when Benjamin Rush, a United States founding father, wrote a paper
calling for them to be outlawed - the stocks, the pillory, the whipping post,
the lot:

ignominy [being] universally acknowledged to be a worse

punishment than death. It would seem strange that
ignominy should ever have been adopted as a milder
punishment than death, did we not know that the human
mind seldom arrives at truth upon any subject till it has
first reached the extremity of error.10

This author submits that Jon Ronson too easily dismissed the common assumption that
shaming punishments died out because they were no longer effective. That is no longer the
case in the information age, given that sex offender registry listings are generally accessible
just by googling someone’s name. Even when individuals come off the registry, they must
contend with private companies that scrape the publicly available registries and host the
listings publicly themselves, sometimes charging those ex-sex offenders hefty fee to de-list
them — to say nothing of the fact that most web pages are cached and archived once they are

In other words, arguably shaming punishments — rather than having stopped — have simply
become more efficient, indelible, and — consequently — brutal than their colonial forebears.
And brutality, while hyperbolic at first glance, may be an apt descriptor: when offered a choice
between spending life as a purported pedophile or dying and being remembered fondly, most
people would prefer death.12

To that end, registration carries with it hefty psychological consequences. One recent survey of
RSOs discovered statistically significant elevations in reports of depression and suicidal

10Jon Ronson  1967- author, So you've been publicly shamed (2015),
9910223205902121. At 72.(emphasis added)

11 For example, at the Internet Archive at

12Andrew J Vonasch et al., Death Before Dishonor: Incurring Costs to Protect Moral Reputation, Soc. Psychol.
Personal. Sci. 1948550617720271 (2017).


ideation amongst those on the registry.13 To the extent that SORA policies isolate, destabilize,
and inculcate in individuals a sense of hopelessness, the end result might be a population with
elevated levels of risk to re-offend.14 Labeling theory would also indicate, that to the extent that
the message that one is an irredeemable monster who is incapable of leading a law-abiding
life, excessive levels of this stigmatization may result in increased rates of re-offense.15 Stress,
anxiety, and fear are all prevalent amongst those on the registry.

Family members of those on the registry share — to a significant degree — many of the same
emotional burdens that registration carries with it, including fear for one’s safety, shame, and
social isolation. 16,17 There is also research that suggests that romantic partners of those on
the may face discrimination within the context of employment — presumably the assumption is
that there must be something wrong with them to choose to be with someone on the registry.18

Coupled with the negative effects of registration are the limited prospects for access to
mental health resources — at least some mental health providers will refuse to see
patients on the basis of their status as registrants.19

The impact of registration on housing — particularly

within jurisdictions where residency restrictions are
Employment &
utilized — cannot be overstated.

While homelessness, housing instability, and transience
are not a direct effect of registration (i.e., they are not
legislatively mandated), they are a natural consequence of laws which drastically limit where
people can live. Occasionally, these statutes have the (if not intended, then the practical) effect
of banishing those on the registry from living in certain jurisdictions.

13Elizabeth L Jeglic, Cynthia Calkins Mercado & Jill S Levenson, The Prevalence and Correlates of Depression and
Hopelessness among Sex Offenders Subject to Community Notification and Residence Restriction Legislation, 46–
59 (2012).

14 Id. at 55.

15Hamilton-Smith, Guy P. & Vogel, Matt, The Violence of Voicelessness: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement on
Recidivism, Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, Vol. 22:2, 108-110.

16Erin B Comartin, Poco D Kernsmith & Bart W Miles, Family Experiences of Young Adult Sex Offender Registration,
19 J. Child Sex. Abus. 204–225 (2010).

17Richard Tewksbury et al., Stress Experiences of Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders, 626 Behav. Sci.
Law 611–626 (2009).

18Tyler J Plogher, Margaret C Stevenson & Evan W Mccracken, Stereotypes of Sex Offenders ’ Romantic Partners
Predict Intent to Discriminate, 16 (2016).

19Though the author is not aware of any empirical research into this question, this point has been confirmed in the
author’s own experience on multiple occasions.


Perhaps the most

dramatic example of
this occurred in Miami,
Florida, where
residency restrictions
made it essentially
impossible for those on
the registry to live
(legally) anywhere within
the city limits, except
under the Julia Tuttle
causeway (pictured).
Individuals who could
have otherwise lived
A photograph taken of the sex offender camp underneath the Julia with supportive family
Tuttle Causeway in Miami, FL, circa 2008. members were forced
to live in desperate,
squalid conditions. While the Julia Tuttle Causeway homeless encampment has since been

shuttered by state authorities, filmmaker David Feige chronicled, amongst other issues, the
continued inability for those on the registry to obtain stable housing in a recent award-winning

Homelessness amongst those on the registry poses additional complications and questions of
humaneness over and above homelessness amongst the general population. For example, in
2009, Thomas Pauli froze to death in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mr. Pauli was on the registry for
a 1991 criminal sexual conduct conviction, and as such, subject to Michigan’s residency

Except for the incarceration of persons under the criminal law and the civil
commitment of mentally ill or dangerous persons, the days are long since past
when whole communities of persons, such as Native Americans and
Japanese-Americans, may be lawfully banished from our midst.

-Excepted from majority opinion in Doe v. City of Lynn, 36 N.E.3d 18 (Mass. 2015) declaring
residency restrictions for sex offenders unconstitutional.

20 Greg Allen, Sex Offender Forced To Live Under Miami Bridge — NPR, May 20, 2009,
templates/story/story.php?storyId=104150499 (Last visited June 1, 2017).

21 UNTOUCHABLE (Blue Lawn Productions 2016)


restrictions, which meant that he was turned away from homeless shelters where he otherwise
might have survived.22

As the number of people on a registry continues to grow, and as those individuals continue to
age, new and complex problems will be exacerbated with regard to long-term care and
assisted living facilities for those on the registry who essentially have no where else to go.23

Despite recent judicial pushback regarding the constitutionality of residency restrictions, the
mounting concerns about not only efficacy (in other words, that there is no evidence that they
operate to prevent sexual offenses, but there is a growing body of evidence that they may
make re-offense more likely).24 The United States Department of Justice has recommended
that residency restrictions not be implemented, in consideration of the paucity of evidence
supporting their effectiveness as a preventative tool.25

Despite this late-breaking judicial intervention, problems of homelessness, transience, and

failure to comply which are compounded by residency restrictions may not be easily unwound.
In California, despite a Supreme Court ruling overturning blanket residency restrictions, state
authorities there are still
dealing with just as many Normally when employers do a background check
homeless persons on the they go back seven years. My conviction was in
registry as they were prior to 1987, 25 years ago. Therefore I was able to obtain
the ruling.26
jobs easily until I had to start registering…Being on
the registry now keeps my conviction current, so
Even in jurisdictions without
potential employers are aware of it as if it was
residency restrictions,
housing and transience recent. I have not been able to obtain a job for the
remains an issue largely past two years.
because many landlords are -Unnamed individual on the registry, as reported in
unwilling to rent to those on Frenzel, et al.2014.
the registry for fear of scaring

22Tom Rademacher, Death of homeless sex offender in Grand Rapids poses questions,
news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/01/death_of_sex_homeless_offender.html, January 29, 2009.

23Peter Rugg, The Puzzle of Housing Aging Sex Offenders - The Atlantic, The Atlantic, June 1, 2017, https:// (last visited Jun 14, 2017).

24Shea Alvarez & Jill Levenson, The Impact of Specialized Sex Offender Legislation on Community Reentry, 20 Sex.
Abus. A J. Res. Treat. 188–205 (2008).

25Lobanov-Rostovsky, Christopher, Adult Sex Offender Managerment, SMART Office, U.S. Department of Justice,
July 2015.

26 Don Thompson, Associated Press, California seeks solutions to homeless sex offender rate, The Washington Post,
July 29th, 2017, available at
s e x - o ff e n d e r- r a t e / 2 0 1 7 / 0 7 / 2 9 / a e 7 1 e a 4 8 - 7 4 6 d - 1 1 e 7 - 8 c 1 7 - 5 3 3 c 5 2 b 2 f 0 1 4 _ s t o r y. h t m l ?
tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.e46ee1591b5 (last accessed August 2nd, 2017).


other tenants, unwillingness to deal with the legal implications of renting to someone on the
registry, or personal distaste.

Many on the registry are also of limited resources, in part because obtaining gainful, stable
employment for those on the registry is nothing if not a monumental task.

It is perhaps uncontroversial that ex-felons as a general group already face an uphill battle in
obtaining employment. In this author’s experience, this challenge becomes significantly more
difficult when dealing with the sex offender label. In surveys, most people on the registry have
reported either losing a job or failing to obtain a job due to presence on the sex offender
registry.27 As research has consistently demonstrated, maintaining stable employment is
consistently associated with remaining offense free for all types of individuals.

As in the quote from the person on the registry in the inset above, registration poses unique
challenges for those on the registry that even those with significant and recent felony
convictions do not have to contend with, given the uniquely stigmatizing and publicly-available
nature of the information that SORA disseminates.

In having done volunteer work within prison ministry and
facilitation reintegration of former offenders into the community,
this author has come to view civic participation as the ultimate
goal for those rejoining society after a prison term. Civic
participation (this author defines, loosely) as all the activities,
connections, relationships, and beliefs which tend to give one a stake in one’s community.
Voting (and, in Kentucky, the eligibility to vote) is certainly one such badge of civic participation.
In other words, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and following the rules other than
simply the avoidance of more and harsher punishment.

SORA, and those under its ambit, presents a sort of queer proposition: that while civic
participation can be seen as a sort of gold standard in terms of reintegrating former offenders,
many of SORA’s policies and stated purposes are deemed successful to the extent that they
continue to keep the individual segregated from society. Individuals who become subject to
SORA are as contaminants, who must be quarantined and separated from the rest of society
on purported public safety grounds while they are simultaneously expected to reintegrate

As the Sixth Circuit notes in Snyder, quoted at the beginning of this document, those on the
registry are branded as lepers solely on the basis of a prior conviction. The conviction, in turn,

27Tewksbury, R., & Lees, M. B. (2006b). Sex offenders on campus: University-based sex offender registries and the
collateral consequences of registration. Federal Probation, 70, 50-63.


will justify discrimination, regardless of any other fact about them.28 While much of this
document has been focused on this in relation to governmental forces, it should be noted that
this applies with equal force to private actors, given the ease with which the information SORA
provides is available.

Perhaps the largest non-governmental entity in the digital sphere — Facebook — famously has
a policy preventing anyone on the registry from using its services. This policy extends to any IP
acquired by Facebook, such as Instagram. This author has encountered numerous instances of
being turned away from services, even those which might be deemed critical to provide —
such as mental health services — due to presence on a registry.

Given the breadth and ubiquity of online communication, it is not controversial that access to it
has become essential and indispensable for civic, political, and community participation. One
recent survey discovered that less than half of those on the registry owned a computer with
internet access.29 Even those with access to the internet, may find themselves cut off from
being able to leverage it to facilitate their reintegration into the community due to private actors
or state laws barring them from using the internet or a wide swath of its services which might
aid in individuals’ reintegration and participation in their respective communities.

Since SORA laws began to gain popularity in the early-90’s, they

(and their attendant legal consequences) have rapidly
proliferated.30 As the direct legal consequences, requirements of
registration, and — importantly — number of individuals required
to register continues to expanded, the questions posed by SORA will continue to loom large.

As this brief has set out, research supports the conclusion SORA has tremendous impact on
individuals’ lives and on their ability to successfully reintegrate into society that last far beyond
the expiration of any criminal sentence (and are arguably, in some ways, more onerous than the
criminal sentence itself). While none of the foregoing is meant to diminish the harm caused by
some offenses and offenders, it is helpful to recall that SORA laws and policies are intended to

28 Authors note: During the preparation of this project, one of the family cats ran away. This author’s fiancé wanted
to use the neighborhood social media app NextDoor to post about our cat to see if anyone had seen him. Upon
signing up for an account, she received a message that she was ineligible to have an account because she shared
an address with a registered sex offender (that is, the author of this document). The author has had numerous
experiences of being ineligible for a wide variety of goods and services unrelated to sex or minors due to presence
on the sex offender registry, though this was the first time that a family member was deemed ineligible for simply
living at the same address. The cat eventually returned, presumably, of his own accord.

29Richard Tewksbury & Kristen M Zgoba, Perceptions and Coping With Punishment, 54 Int. J. Offender Ther.
Comapartive Criminol. 537–551 (2016).

30 Id.


be non-punitive, civil regulatory measures that are meant to prevent repeat sexual offenses, not
to punish those affected by them for the harms that they have caused.

This author is not so naive to expect that many will wring their hands over the plight of those
on the registry, and is helpful to be mindful of the inescapable fact that there is a tremendous
amount of human suffering on all sides of this equation.

That being said, it is (or should be) uncontroversial that the ultimate goal of any sound policy or
law related to sex offenses is one of prevention. When considered with the research that
generally shows SORA laws have little to no impact on either new sexual offenses or repeat
sexual offenses,31 and that the vast majority of reported sexual offenses are perpetrated by
first-time offenders,32 it seems reasonable to question whether they are fulfilling their intended
purpose, whether the comport with notions of human and civil rights, and whether other
approaches might be more effective towards the goal of preventing sexual violence.

As the number of people on a sex offender registry continue to approach a million, lawmakers,
analysts, advocates, and other stakeholders should be impelled to soberly examine the
questions raised by the implementation of SORA laws and policies. Given the lengthy periods
of registration, the relative lack of avenues to terminate registration, expansion of offenses
which trigger registration, and lack of attention being paid to this population by criminal justice
reform advocates, it seems reasonable to conclude that this population will only grow larger —
and the questions posed by our existence more pressing.

31Jeff A. Bouffard & LaQuana N. Askew, Time-Series Analyses of the Impact of Sex Offender Registration and
Notification Law Implementation and Subsequent Modifications on Rates of Sexual Offenses, Crime Delinq.
1112871772201 (2017),

32Jeffrey C. Sandler, Naomi J. Freeman & Kelly M. Socia, Does a watched pot boil? A time-series analysis of New
York State’s sex offender registration and notification law, 14 Psychol. Public Policy, Law 284–302 (2008).