This paper analogizes this practice to juvenile sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Miller v.
Alabama and Graham v. This article argues that mandatory lifetime registration applied to children in the same manner as adult offenders is cruel and unusual punishment because it violates fundamental principles that require sentencing practices to distinguish between adult and child offenders. Scrutiny of child sex offender registration laws places front and center the issue of what it means to judge our children. And on that issue, we are failing. In a debate clouded by emotion, it is increasingly clear that juvenile sex offender registration is cruel and unusual punishment.
Keywords: juvenile, sex offender registration, cruel and unusual punishment, Megan's law.
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Thus, participants supported the full application of the registry more for the abused than the nonabused juvenile because they were more likely to believe he posed a danger to society.
Although abuse history did not influence the registration support variable, participants were marginally more supportive of the full application of the registry for a sexually abused juvenile than a nonabused juvenile who had committed statutory rape. Also, an abused juvenile who committed statutory rape was perceived as more mentally ill, less able to control his behavior, and more likely to recidivate than a nonabused juvenile. Participants also endorsed marginally greater retributive and utilitarian goals for the abused than the nonabused juvenile.
Further, mediation analyses revealed that utilitarian goals of punishment i. Interestingly, participants were more supportive of registering an abused versus a nonabused juvenile who committed statutory rape, even though they believed the abused juvenile was less able to control his behavior—an attribution that both the present and past research Weiner, shows predicts leniency in case judgments.
The present research demonstrates an interesting instance in which fear of recidivism i. Thus, just as in Study 3, participants might be more likely to label a relatively less severe sex crime i. This is in line with past work illustrating that participants sometimes use abuse history as an aggravating factor Najdowski et al.
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It is noteworthy that abuse history predicted support for the full application of the registry, but not registration support. It is possible that the registration support variable triggers retributive goals of punishment because its wording refers to the severity of registration i. In contrast, the question assessing support for the full application of the registry does not require participants to consider the punitive severity of registration.
Instead, participants are merely asked to recommend one of various registration options i. In support, the effect of abuse history on support for the full application of the registry was not mediated by retributive goals of punishment but instead utilitarian goals to protect society. As expected, when asked about juvenile sex offenders generally, participants greatly overestimated the prevalence of a history of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders, just as they overestimate histories of sexual abuse for adult sex offenders Fortney et al.
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In line with attribution theory e. Further supporting attribution theory, this effect was significantly mediated by uncontrollable attributions and retributive goals of punishment. Yet when participants were asked to consider specific cases, attributions to abuse reduced support for juvenile registration policies only for severe sex crimes like rape, which, unsurprisingly, are the very types of crimes that participants naturally tend to envision when asked generally about sex crimes Salerno, Najdowski, et al. For less severe juvenile sex crimes, however, the more participants attributed sex offending to past abuse, the more they supported registration.
Finally, when a history of sexual abuse was experimentally manipulated, abuse history was consistently used as an aggravating factor in a less severe statutory rape case, consistent with what Najdowski et al. Although the results of these studies might seem inconsistent, they are in line with existing theory and our hypotheses. That is, serious types of sexual crimes are considered prototypical sex crimes Salerno, Najdowski et al. Yet, for nonprototypical but more common; U. Department of Justice, less serious sex crimes, a different trend emerges, in large part due to the malleability of the perceived seriousness of the sexual offense—malleability that does not exist for extremely serious types of sexual offenses.
Specifically, less severe sex crimes i. Throughout this manuscript, we have discussed the social psychological implications of our work in terms of attribution theory and decision making. Our results, however, also have a number of implications that inform child-related public policy and law Stevenson et al. Most people inaccurately assume juvenile sex offenders have been abused. Moreover, normative and consensual adolescent sexual activity is particularly criminalized when people assume that the adolescent is engaging in sexual activity because of his own history of abuse.
Such findings have implications with respect to the fairness of registration policies, particularly because most juvenile sex offenders have not been sexually abused Ryan et al. To the extent that judges are allowed judicial discretion in applying registration policies to adolescents, the present research suggests that juvenile registration is likely to be applied capriciously and affect certain groups more than others.
This research also has implications for sentencing. Sexual abuse history, presumed by the law to be a mitigating factor e. This is especially noteworthy considering that less severe sex crimes constitute the majority of juvenile sex offenses U. Department of Justice, This finding is likely to be of interest to trial attorneys who must attempt to anticipate the factors that jurors will consider aggravating versus mitigating.
Although laws such as the Illinois Juvenile Court Act mandate that child abuse be considered a mitigating factor, evidence suggests that the opposite is happening for child physical abuse Stevenson, and, in some cases, child sexual abuse e. Yet, because the current research demonstrates that abuse attributions mitigate case judgments when participants consider juvenile sex offenses in the abstract, it is likely that legal decision makers and the general public assume that child abuse is being used as a mitigating factor.
These assumptions undermine the effectiveness of such laws. It may be prudent for legal decision makers to provide rehabilitative resources and mental health services to juvenile sex offenders who commit these less severe nonviolent offenses, particularly those with histories of child sexual abuse, instead of resorting to potentially harmful sex offender registration Salerno, Stevenson et al.
Given that participants greatly overestimate the prevalence of a history of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders, and that this belief can lead to more severe treatment of juvenile sex offenders, another policy implication is to educate legal decision makers about actual prevalence rates of abuse histories among juvenile sex offenders.
Although only a small minority of sexually abused individuals become sex offenders Worling, , due to well-documented human reliance on heuristics in decision making e. Policy-focused educators should take precautions when teaching this information and be careful to correct such mistakes in logic—mistakes that have the potential to result in discriminatory treatment of sexually abused juveniles.
Perhaps this is explained by the fact that internal attributions to sexual deviance and mental illness could be perceived as either controllable or uncontrollable as well as either permanent or transitory. Future research might better test whether participants use abuse as a mitigating or aggravating factor by teasing these confounds apart; for example, by experimentally manipulating whether internal attributions for sexual deviance or mental illness are viewed as either stable or unstable and controllable or uncontrollable.
Our methods were realistic in several regards: the vignettes were modeled after real cases, and we employed both undergraduate and representative community member samples in an attempt to obtain generalizable results. A key methodological finding, aside from all our central findings related to our theories about reactions to juvenile offenders, is that there were no differences between these two types of samples.
The fungibility of undergraduate and community jurors has long been debated in the field of psychology and law. In understanding reactions to juvenile offenders, our work stands in support of research with undergraduate subjects as a proxy for community members. Although the purpose of this research was to test factors that shape public support for social policy, future research should test the possibility that these results generalize to a trial context.
Indeed, replication of this line of research in mock trial contexts, with more realism and ecological validity, including lengthier trial transcripts and jury deliberations, is prudent. For instance, participant samples were primarily White, and future research should include more diverse participant samples.
In addition, participants were provided with minimal information explaining sex offender registration policy and the sexual crime vignettes were short and did not contain a great deal of case-related evidence. Even so, no psycho-legal study will fully replicate real events, nor is complete replication necessary to test basic psychological mechanisms underlying some decisions e. Our work is a necessary first step in understanding how abuse attributions and abuse history influence public support for policies affecting juvenile sex offenders.
The Influence of a Juvenile’s Abuse History on Support for Sex Offender Registration
The questions addressed by this research are critical given that registering juveniles is not only ineffective at reducing sex offenses, but also potentially negatively influences the lives of those registered in ways that could contribute to future recidivism see, e. Understanding biases against juvenile offenders who have already experienced maltreatment i. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Psychol Public Policy Law. Published online Nov Michael E. Lamb, Editor. Margaret C.
Najdowski , 2 Jessica M. Salerno , 3 Tisha R. Wiley , 4 Bette L. Bottoms , 5 and Katlyn S. Farnum 6. Cynthia J. Jessica M. Tisha R. Bette L. Katlyn S. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.