No, Sex Offenders Shouldn’t Get Marked Passports

The media has reported that the U.S. State Department has begun revoking the passports of certain sex offenders and requiring them to get new passports that will now conspicuously state:

The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).

IMG_20171106_230520Definitely not the endorsement I’d prefer to have on my passport.  Diving a bit deeper into the law, the change seems mandated by Congress in a fairly bi-partisan bill in 2016, quickly signed by President Obama.  It applies to all “covered sex offenders,” which in this case means you’re been “convicted of a sex offense against a minor” in any state and that you’re still subject to any state’s sex offender list registration requirement.

There are many reasons why this is a dumb idea (none of which are that sex offenders don’t deserve to be punished).  Allow me to propound a few:

1. Our Current Sex Offender List System is Broken

I think we can all agree that once a sex offender has served his or her time in prison, our #1 goal should be to ensure that they do not re-offend upon release.  So what do we do?  We make it so that they can’t ever get a decent job, we make it so that they often cannot find affordable housing and live or even live with their families, we stigmatize them wherever they go, and if they slip up with often onerous registration requirements, it’s back to jail.  All by putting them on “the list.”

Miami, for example, bans sex offenders from being within 2,500 feet of where children “congregate.”  That’s half a mile.  How many apartments in your community are not within half a mile of a school or a park?  The result: dozens of sex offenders live under a bridge, because there is simply not enough housing outside of 2,500 feet to house them all.

To many, the above yields a response of, “Good, they deserve it.”  But, lack of empathy notwithstanding, the problem is that someone with a job and a stable home is going to be far less likely to re-offend than someone who’s forced to live on the streets with a bunch of other sex offenders.  You might not like the idea of helping a rapist get back in the workforce, but failing to do so increase the risk of a new victim.

Until we reform our current sex offender list systems, I’d oppose any attempt to expand them.

2. The Government Has Lied About Recidivism

“[T]he average member of the general public believes that 75 percent of sex offenders will reoffend,” according to a study on the matter.  Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court itself has quoted “80%” as being the recidivism rate.  McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 33 (2002).

But as the New York Times recently reported:

A few years ago, Ira Ellman, a legal scholar affiliated with the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley, and the researcher Tara Ellman set out to find the source of that 80 percent figure, and what he found shocked him. As it turns out, the court found that number in a brief signed by Solicitor General Ted Olson. The brief cited a Department of Justice manual, which in turn offered only one source for the 80 percent assertion: a Psychology Today article published in 1986.

Needless to say, the author of the Psychology Today article has recanted his number, and that most actual scientific studies put the actual 3-year recidivism rate at 3.5%According to the Department of Justice, “Within 5 years of release, 82.1% of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 76.9% of drug offenders, 73.6% of public order offenders, and 71.3% of violent offenders.”

So, no, these lists are not justified by some special risk of recidivism inherent to this particular type of crime.  All criminals released from prison have a risk of a repeat, but the number for sex offenders simply is not that high.

3. It’s a Lot More Than Child Molesters

Let’s say you’re a mid-20s guy and you head out to a bar in Venice Beach, CA.  You meet a beautiful girl inside and end up taking her home with you.  Just to be extra careful, you check her ID, which indicates that she’s 21.  But after you have sex, you learn she’s not — she’s actually 17.

If you get caught, even though you met her in a bar and you checked her ID, you’re going to jail and you’re going to be on the sex offender list, and now you’re getting your passport revoked so that the government can add a scarlet letter to the new one.  Even if you went through heroic efforts to ensure that she was of legal age, mistake is no defense in California (as in most states), and you’re… well… fucked, so to speak.

In some states, public urination is a sex offense.  If you do it near a school, or a child happens to see you, does that qualify you for the new visa marking?  It very well may.  Same with the teenage couple where one is a little over the age of consent and one a little under.  Same with the teen convicted of possessing child pornography of his or herself.

Frankly, our sex offense laws are inconsistent and often unjust (and that goes both ways — there are also many who should be punished that are not).  Until the laws are fixed, we should not be adding to the problem with new punishments also to be implemented unjustly.

4. So Why Not Murderers?  Drug Traffickers?  Mafia Members?

If we’re going to release dangerous people from prison — and why we apparently do that is beyond the scope of this post — why treat a sex offender worse than a murderer?  Why not add a label for people who smuggle drugs when they travel (something actually relevant at the border)?  What about international mobsters?

Because this is just like the TSA — it’s security theater.  These are measures that make people feel good, or at least feel like Congress is doing something, even when they’re not.    The U.S. already sends sex offender information to many foreign countries as our citizens depart for them.  This law just allows our legislators to go home to their constituents and pretend that they did something to protect the children.

5. These People Have Already Served Their Time

I think there should be significant prison sentences for sex offenders — enough to strongly deter them and others from committing the crime and to rehabilitate the offender as much as possible.

But once a person has re-paid their debt to society, it’s simply unfair to add a new penalty.  So-called “ex post facto” laws are forbidden by the Constitution, but we get around that by pretending that these registration requirements are not criminal laws but rather public safety laws.  That distinction is certainly not comforting to those who can’t get jobs or find apartments as a result.

Again, many perhaps don’t care, or will frame this as being “sympathetic to sex offenders.”  But as a civil libertarian, I know that the easiest way for our rights to be eroded is to blame terrorism or pedophiles.  Nearly every privacy grab has been on one of those two bases, from secret FISA spying to warrantless searches of digital devices at the border.  Let’s not put up with infringements of the rights of sex offenders just because we don’t like them, because once sex offenders lose those rights, the rest of us do too.

25 thoughts on “No, Sex Offenders Shouldn’t Get Marked Passports

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  1. I agree with you 100% on this one. I am more concerned that my neighbor is a mass killer then if he committed a sex crime 20 years ago with his 16 year old girlfriend while he was 18. I am one of the few landlords in my city who knowingly accepts people on this stupid list. In a recent incident, one of my young tenants who was convicted while still a teenager, had his probation revoked and sent back to prison for a year. His offense? His weekly lie detector test discovered he was masterbating excessively. Which if a crime, then a lot of young men should be setting in jail.

  2. A friend and me were just talking about some of the crazy things that gets you on that list. It started with us talking about a list of mentally ill who shouldn’t have guns and ended up with the sex offender list and the no fly list. I think we have to many lists already myself.

    The only thing that is new to me, that recidivism rate. I always wondered where that came from.

    As Roland pointed out, I’m a lot more worried about a murderer or even a drug dealer than I am some guy who took a leak behind a tree and got caught or as you pointed out, was 18 and had sex with a 17 year old girlfriend. A case like that actually happened here. It got ugly because the parents wanted to press charges and the girl was refusing to cooperate or testify. Not real sure how that ended up tho.

    You may want to see if you can find this too. Dr. Phil had a show once where a guy was trying to get off the sex offender list. I can’t recall the details but I recall watching most of it. If interested, a google search may turn up something. It was several, several years ago.

  3. I very much agree with everything that you wrote.

    I’m not an American, but seeing how much countries give heavy credence to US laws and precedence I hope this idea doesn’t creep into the minds of politicians in my home country or the one I’m living now. It’s dangerous and could further propel people into performing witch hunts against offenders.

    Inside of the US Constitution is there not an article that pertains to freedom of movement? Or is that right forfeited once a person is charged with a felony?

  4. What really gets me is they will do a civil commitment for life to a state institution (really just a jail) with no real treatment and no chance of ever getting out. To justify due process, they are required to do a biannual evaluation, but how do you evaluate a criminal that he/she is not going to commit a crime in the future? If we really can evaluate people for future criminal activity, then for goodness sake, lets evaluate everyone at birth and lock up for life anyone who might commit a crime sometime in their life? This hooky test is also just certified for adults, but because they don’t have a similar test for younger people, they use this non-certified test on teenagers as well. Speaking of teenagers. A 17 year old is pulled in an put into detention for having sex with his under age girl friend. Prosecutor gives them a deal. Agree to be prosecuted as an adult, cop a plea, and they will be out of detention and free on probation that day. After setting in detention for weeks without bail, and having no reasonable legal representation, the teenager agrees to the deal without thinking about the fact he will be branded for life as a high risk sex offender and will not be able to get a job, housing or any government help. What next, jail all blacks and mexicans because they are likely to commit a future crime?

  5. If I may offer a completely different perspective…I’m wondering what protocol is presently in place to ensure that minors are not seated next to convicted child molesters on airplanes. When a family chooses to economize by not paying a premium for contiguous seats and are rather randomly placed, what would be the family’s recourse against an adult passenger (sex offender or otherwise) that caused harm to a child during the flight? What precautions could a family take today to ensure that does not happen? What precautions is the airline required to take to avoid liability? Statistically the potential for harm is likely greater on the larger number of domestic flights than international, which does create more confusion as to why passport designation would make more sense than say, a driver’s license designation. Back to the more common perspective offered here, it is puzzling why anyone would want to take action that would interfere with a sex offender wanting to leave the country. Wouldn’t their exit be a good thing?

    1. I’m sure no parent “wants” their kid to be seated next to a sex offender, nor next to any other kind of current or former criminal. But planes are no different than trains, buses, or even shopping malls, where your child will interact with the general public and not everyone is a good person. Teaching your children to recognize and respond to inappropriate conduct is the precaution that needs to be taken.

  6. I also am of the opinion that many of our lists are in violation of our various international human rights treaties which garentee such rights as travel, housing, jobs, and social benefits. Treaty rights are similar in weight as our Constitution. There are also a lot of state constitution provisions violated, but state constutions are mostly ignored by the courts and rarely even mentioned in law schools.

  7. What really bothers me in many ways is the fact that many giels and women play games and then yell fowl. Women do not admit it, are just as bad as men with sexual advances or acts. For example, a woman can gawk, touch, smack mens rears, make crude sexual comments or jokes and get away with it. Look at present day at all the so called sexual misconduct by women in their teens up to a hundred, true, false, trying to play games, climb the ladder in society…so to speak. In this society today it seems that equal rights means the role has turned. Everyone should be treated equal and held accountable for their actions, female or male, young and old. I have seen some women act worse in some cases then men. I demaned equal rights for all and responsibility instead of narcisam. Grow UP! W.T.F.?

    1. Mike, how very true. But on the other hand the great cosmic circle just keeps rolling along. 100 years ago women were treated like shit by our grandfathers. Today men can be treated that way. In the various parts, one group or the other has been elevated and the other treated like shit due to race or religion, ete., etc. Lets face it, the human race really isn’t that loving no matter what country or culture we live in. We are always looking for ways of putting others down. In regards to sex offenders traveling, we have the International Treaty on Human Rights that protects all of our rights to travel, and it does not exclude sex offenders, etc., etc. But, we really do not believe in true equality or human rights, we just wave the flag and cry we are the greatest of the great, etc.

  8. I am not sure what to day here. I would like to comment but I am suspicious to do so.
    You see… I am a sex offender. I have two passports, and two nationalities. I am Brazilian by birth, and American by Naturalization.
    I have lived in the USA for over 33 years. I came in when I was 23 years old.
    I went to University here in the USA, I was married, and have a daughter. I am now divorced.
    My “offense” occurred when I posted an Advertisement on Craigslist, looking to meet a man.
    You see… I am bisexual. I like guys, as much as I like women.
    During the email exchange that followed, and subsequent text messages, he sent me some pictures of himself. This occurred, even after I had told him, that due to his age, there would be no exchanges of pictures between us. I made a point to say that.
    He also wanted me to meet him at his place, he claimed to be 15 years old, and I immediately said no to that idea. Instead, I said I would meet him at a public place, and located the nearest “public” space near his home. It turned out to be the Walmart Store. I told him that I would meet him there.
    You may say… You are indeed a “Sex Offender” Mr. Schindler. I will now tell you why I don’t see myself as such.
    He sent me tree pictures of himself. One of himself posing in front of a mirror, where he was wearing no shirt, and the camera flash obscured his face.
    The two other pictures were of partial parts of his face. In both pictures of his face, I could clearly see his 5 O’clock shadow. How many fifteen year old guys you know, out there, have a 5 O’clock shadow. I don’t know of any but, I could be wrong, and I am sure there are some out there, I just never met one.
    I soon realized I was dealing with someone that was a “fake”, a “scab”, or a “flake” to use some of the terms employed at Craigslist to those who are nothing more than bullies on that site.
    My mistake, was deciding to confront him, and go meet him. Obviously, once I got there, the only people waiting for me were the detectives that arrested me.
    I was charged with “Indecent Solicitation of a Child”. Arrested, and went to trial. My lawyer, due to a conflict of interested was appointed by the Judge. My lawyer did absolutely nothing for me.
    He never once heard my side of the story. He actually told me he did not want to hear it, unless we went to trial, something that he strongly was against, telling me that unless I were a gambling man, I should not do.
    I ended up with a 5 year suspended sentence, five years probation, and 15 years mandatory registration as a Sex Offender. That, having never met the “child” I supposedly solicited. A crime without a victim. A first offense of any sort. Prior to this, I didn’t as much as had a parking ticket.
    I learned about this new law today, during one my Sex Offenders Group Therapy Sessions.
    I was hoping that once my five years probation were over, I would be able to live a somewhat normal life, and perhaps even go back, and live in the country I was born. I am not sure now that would be possible. I don’t want to. If I am ever required to obtain a passport with such a notice attached to it, I just assume to let my American one expire, and never get a new one.
    I am not saying that what I did was right. I am just saying that it was a sex offense. Once you use the term “Sex Offender” people do not discriminate the type of offense you engaged in. They automatically assume that you are a pedophile. Someone that engages in sex with real children, those of extremely young age, such as 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 or so years old.
    I made a mistake, I don’t deny it. But it was a judgement mistake, not a character flaw. I should never have gone, no matter what my intentions were, to meet that person. But on the other hand, I was sure he was not a minor. What can I say? I don’t know. I am 58 years old, and I can honestly say, I just hope I die soon.
    The constant abuse I am forced to endure now from probation officers, and those who can invade my home at any minute, because I was forced to give up my Fourth Amendment Rights.
    I don’t know what to do. I wish I could appeal but, under the advice of my lawyer, I pleaded ‘Nolo Contendere”. Which means I would not contest the charge. A mistake, compounded many times over, by the lack of good advice, from an uninterested lawyer.
    I hope I die soon. I am tired of it, and I didn’t even served any time in prison. I once told my “lawyer”. “It would have been better for me, if I had killed someone.”

    1. Oliver, thank you for sharing your story. There are many, many just like you who had perhaps small lapses in judgment that resulted in a far too large price to pay. I hope you do not die soon, but instead live to tell your story and help to end this unfair system. I also hope you report your lawyer’s conduct to the state bar.

      1. Thank you for your response Mr. Corbett.

        I appreciate the time you took to respond. I was very upset when I posted it. Depressed would be a better representation of my state of mind at that time.

        What most people I assume will do, if they read my comment is to quote me that all too familiar American saying: “Hind vision is 20/20”. I can assure you and those who read my post, that is not the case.

        I had used Craigslist before to meet people. That by itself is a huge no/no for many people, and would already qualify me, in some opinions, as a dirty old man. Perhaps I am. I am not sure, and certainly would not describe myself as such.

        I had exchanged emails in the past with people on Craigslist, those responding to my Ads. And indeed I have come across people I believe are indeed minor on that site. In fact, I am sure of it, for in the past, when someone has responded to my Ad. claimed to be 13, 14 or 15 years old, I would try to tell them that Craigslist was not a good place for them to be at that age. In fact, I would point out that legally they should not be there. I would give advice, not short of that of a father gives his son, or daughter to these boys. The difference was, I was sure I was exchanging emails with someone young.

        People will them tell me. “Well, you should not be doing that!” Perhaps not but, I see no evil in giving good advice to anyone, no matter what the circumstances might be.

        Once, when talking to someone that I was sure was fifteen, I he sent me his phone number, and I called, and I told him I wanted to talk to his mother, that I knew where he lived, and that I was going to his home to speak directly to his mother about his behavior online. He was terrified, and crying on the phone, he bagged me not to do it.

        Another young person I exchanged emails with on Craigslist, was someone else that claimed to be 15 years old. His name was Noah. I knew that to be true because once I had their names, I would do a Google search, or a Facebook search, and I would find out more about them. In this particular case, with Noah, he was real. Again, I gave him some advice, and told him, once again, that I would contact his parents. I never heard back from either one.

        I did not see an issue in talking to someone else that claimed to be 15 but, once I noticed that this one was a fake, I was very upset. That was my mistake. I should just have dropped it, and move on. I didn’t!

        Craigslist is full of characters like that. People that go there just to provoke and to make fun of people like me. They get a kick out of it. That was my mistake. I decided to call his bluff, and meet him, and teach him a lesson. As I said, a mistake in judgment, but not one of character.

        Anyway… It is too late now. Not much I can do, if anything at all. I’ve learned my lesson. Move on, and make the best of it.

        What upsets me most is, Craigslist could avoid these types of occurrences if it only asked for people’s social security number to log in and post Ads. There has been many cases in the news where people who used Craigslist were robbed, and some even killed. Asking someone for a phone number is not a way of identifying anyone these days. Everybody has a phone number, including the bad guys.

        Now… If our government, and states are so determined to end child exploitation, or sex trafficking, why don’t they pass some law that would require Craigslist to be more strict with those logging to the site.

        Once charged as a Sex Offender, you have no recourse of any sort. You can’t even get a lawyer that will represent you in a decent way. I had the feeling my lawyer didn’t believe anything I had to say. It is probably the same here, and most likely that will be the same anywhere I could speak.

        Have a good night sir. I wish you success.


        1. Well, I can’t agree that Craigslist should start collecting social security numbers, but I certainly do feel sympathy for your situation, where it sounds like the punishment did not fit the crime. Best of luck in moving forward! 🙂

  9. Speaking of child porn, thanks to FISA, Homeland Security will monitor our emails and inform local police of any suspicious activity. I also suspect, that Homeland Security runs its own porn sites in order to trap Americans into doing something illegal.

      1. In reviewing the file of an elderly 86 old man in Grand Forks, ND who was convicted a year ago for child porn on his computer (faced 50 years in prison for 10 porn photo’s) I clearly found Homeland Security involved in the case and this was part of the 14 page affidavit of Probably Cause made out by arresting officer. Interestingly, while police confiscated all his computers, there is absolutely nothing in the file to show he had child porn on his computer, and absolutely nothing to indicate he had ever placed any there. But, after being held for 76 days without bail, this half blind and mostly death senior citizen finally coped a plea for 1 year plus 3 probation plus lifetime high risk sex offender status. No doubt now he is also barred from the local senior citizen center as well.

  10. Oh, speaking of child porn. A while back I was shocked to find over 100 pictures of same on my computer. I immediately erased them all and took the computer in for additional cleaning. They had probably gotten there by some computer malwear. Still, if cops had found this I would have faced 500 years in prison (5 years for each photo). So, I guess we all have to more carefully watch what gets into our computer files.

  11. The issue is this.. What is the difference between a 21 year old kid that hooks up with a 16 year old girl and a person that molest a child? According to their passport , nothing

  12. Question! I am a citizen of the USA but permanently moved from there 7 years ago will my Passport have this BS in it? I don’t register in my host country.

    1. Sex offender list are bogus and accomplish nothing except it allows the politicians to claim they actually are doing something. Human males are basically sex predators and 99% of us probably would qualify for a predator list.

  13. The only things these people in Government understand is war. They can’t be reasoned with. Look at the Trumpys and Anti-Vaxxers, they succeeded because they fought the Government. We need todo the same and take out these people like Adam Walsh etc. Amazingly, if you are in the Government, you can commit any crime you wish with no punishment. Look at sex offender Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawsey (spelling?) Madison Cawthorn, Brett Cavanaugh etc.

    You can kill your child in a hot car with no punishment. How can you forget you have a child? Look at how many get away with rape with the “I was drunk excuse” and Judges letting them go just because they do not want them on the registry. The whole list is a scam. There is NO safety. Safety is an illusion. IT IS ALL FOR POLITICAL CASH.

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