While unlikely actors such as Newt Gingrich, member of the conservative prison reform organization Right on Crime,1 lobby for sentencing reform and prison closure and herald the “end of mass incarceration” (New York Times 2014), facets of our carceral regime remain untouched. People convicted of sex crimes are, according to political scientist Marie Gottschalk, “the fastest growing segment of state and federal prison populations” due to “tougher sanctions” (Gottschalk 2015, 199). Punishment continues after exiting prison. With more than 800,0000 individuals on sex offender registries, many convicted as minors, surveillance persists after release from prison (Horowitz 2015, Lancaster 2011). In 2014 in New York, as the state pushed to close prisons, the Washington Post reported that dozens of people with convictions for sexual offenses were held after their release date because of their inability to secure housing due to laws that restricted their residences to outside one thousand feet of a school (including state- or non-state-sponsored shelters) (Associated Press 2014). The hyper-vilification and increased criminalization of “sex offenders” stands in stark contrast to the growing bipartisan consensus that the “war on crime” and “war on drugs,” in the words of President Bill Clinton, “sent everybody to jail for too long” (Hunt 2014). As criminal justice reform gains a tenacious foothold, interrogating the function of sex offender registries and community notification laws grows more imperative.
By Owen Daniel-McCarter, Erica R. Meiners, R. Noll, 2016