The Future Registry (A Thought Experiment)

By J . . .

As a kid in the system I grew up in one of PA’s toughest prisons and I learned early on that the mountain ahead of me for my actions was not going to be easy to climb.Moving forward in life I knew that once my time was done I would need to learn everything I could to try to educate people on what the registry truly is, how it became, and most importantly how we as a society might fix it.

Today, I want to explore. What the future registry of tomorrow might look like. It is split into 3 sections: If things remain the same, if they were fixed, and if the registry were abolished. As always with anything like this there are a million moving parts and obviously flaws to any logic.

Scenario 1, Total Crackdown Registry

When you look at what a registry of tomorrow might look like you have to understand which movement you are examining. Because the registry will look the way it does in the future because of the hard work and determination of many groups coming together to reform the current registry.

But what is the current registry? The current registry is a hybrid of several state registries and the main SORNA registry. Its complex but its something like a 24 billion dollar address book of names, faces, addresses, and basics about the crime each registrant has been convicted of. It is important to note the money part. That amount is an estimate only. It is derived from multiple sources. One estimate by the Justice Policy Institute says that the registry cost around 488 million for each state to implement. Another source (unknown) cites the registry to cost around 24 billion a year.

So the overall governing principle is two fold. Monetary considerations and political pressures. And that is what the first scenario takes into consideration. A total Crack Down Registry is basically what we have now. In many instances evidence suggests that more crimes being added to the registry that are non sexual in nature is likely. As monetary pressure mounts in the absence of major outbreaks of sexual offending (which are never likely) you will see more and more crimes added. Animal abuse and neglect has been proposed at least two times now and arson and kidnapping are already a part of it. So the registry of tomorrow might be a landscape of large portions of society facing homelessness, financial hardships, and public scorn. Provided the governing lawmakers keep regurgitating the myth that it is protection of children and families society will be ok with it.

It goes without saying that this is the most likely future registry and underscores why fighting against it will prevent that. Fighting against a future like that is very important.

Scenario 2, The Reactive Registry

Restorative justice was first introduced in the 70s and 80s but became very popular in the 90s. In traditional justice programs you ask 3 basic questions. What law was broken, who broke it, what is the punishment. As you can see. This is our current registry. It simply attaches to the end of those questions as a civil penalty. On the other hand restorative justice asks: Who was hurt, who hurt them, what harm was done, what can be done to restore the injustice, what can prevent it in the future. The registry actually fits quite nicely into this if it were enhanced. A restorative justice program nationwide would require a registry that reacts to the person on it.

The “Reactive Registry” is probably the closest one might come to a “perfect” system. A person would be on the registry long enough to be justifiable. The registry would be mainly shared with who needs to know (instead of being a public listing) and would end for a person once they were deemed able to handle life beyond it. In an ideal system one would never be determined to need to be on the registry for a lifetime unless they do not improve in their mental health treatment. In such a case money might be a motivating factor but more so would be progress a person makes in treatment. Such a registry puts a better emphasis on restoring the person behind the crime rather then making an example of them.

In order to go from the registry of today to a “Reactive Registry” society would need to first accept that the current registry does nothing for them. Politicians would need to no longer be able to benefit from it. Finally, the national registry would need to be eliminated. Individual states would need to create tried and true (evidence based) practices for evaluating, treating, and then safely discharging individuals using science and evidence rather then money and political persuasion. This would be an uphill climb. Remember how much political pressure and money you would face. The fight is worth it but it would be a fight no less. When I attended a lobbying event in my state capitol a lawmaker turned to me when I said maybe we can shut down a prison or two and said: “What would you like to tell all the people in my district who voted me in who make money from those prisons?” He was not even close to kidding.

Scenario 3, the Abolished Registry

Taking a brief look at the final choice comes with a note. Society has invested millions if not billions of dollars into the registry we currently have. They also have cemented a concept into their heads that the registry is protecting men, women, and especially children from “Dangerous” predators. A lot of lies and a lot of money have gone into the registry we currently have. Society really would never stand to have it eliminated.

The most logical eliminated registry is one where only the police, CYS, and maybe some schools or daycares might have access to. A sort of non public registry. People would still require regular background checks for some jobs and of course people would still be on probation or parole just like they are now.

Several types of eliminated or abolished registries have been noodled by experts. First is a sort of shop and check out sort of system. An entity must state a purpose on a form online and who they are and then a criteria. They will then be entered into a system and receive their data as a packet of information. They will be of course carefully informed that they cant disseminate the information and that it is for their eyes only. Should they really have no purpose they will be denied.
Second, is a sort of police book situation. A secure portal where law enforcement and officials with a reason to visit it can look at the information contained inside. In this case we have real world examples. There are similar medical databases for the CDC and hospitals but most famous is INTERPOL this international database is a many faced system that fights crime across boundaries and borders. There are registry type systems embedded into INTERPOLs network that are only really accessible to law enforcement efforts.

In any event of what an eliminated registry might look like there are steps being taken. In June of 2021 the ALI suggested among other things making the registry law enforcement only among other sweeping changes to it. They suggested time limits, hard limits, and elimination of community notification. You can read all about on the NARSOL home page. This is a promising step because the ALI wrote the model penal code which is widely used by Judges to this day. The ALI signalling this might indicate that of the thousands of studies which prove that the registry of today is fairly worthless, experts are now looking at what can be done to future reform it.

The registry is a constantly changing issue for society and is one of the most destructive, disruptive, contentious, litigated and complex criminal justice systems in history. Changing it to better society is going to take the work of many actions one chip at at time. That is why efforts like those at NARSOL are so very important. Individuals and organizations working together can figure this out. But it will take time and effort. Just like making a diamond does.

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