Home News Center The Adam Walsh Act: The Cost of Compliance and the Danger to Juveniles in the Justice System

The Adam Walsh Act: The Cost of Compliance and the Danger to Juveniles in the Justice System

January 17, 2012


juvenile-sex-offender-reform-road-work-ahead-signSix years after Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act, only 15 states have substantially complied with its requirements. Some states, including Texas and New York, have officially declined to comply with the Act, even though failure to comply means the loss of 10 percent of their federal Byrne grants. Some states that had been moving toward compliance, like Nebraska, are now having second thoughts, according to a Jan. 5 story in Stateline.

States are refusing to comply in part because of the juvenile registration requirement. Other states are satisfied with their current risk-based tiered classification (as opposed to offense-based) and registration of sex offenders, while others are legitimately concerned that if they fully comply with the Act, they will end up spending more on lawsuits than they would receive in federal funds, as has happened in Ohio, the first state to come in to compliance, in 2007.   

The impact on youth who have committed sex offenses is of particular concern, as a Jan. 7 story in USA Today made clear. Under the Walsh Act, youth as young as 14 who have been adjudicated in juvenile court with a serious sex offense must register on law-enforcement registries for 25 years. This goes against a growing body of research that clearly shows that fewer than one out of ten youth who have committed sex offenses will recidivate.   

"We're bringing down a very heavy hammer on the head of kids, with significant life-altering consequences," said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, an NJJN partner. "It's a knee-jerk reaction that's foolhardy beyond imagination."

Photo: SoulRider.222, under Creative Commons license

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