Facing a July 2009 deadline to comply with a controversial federal law intended to crack down on sex offenders, states are faced with a decision to fall in line with the statute or ignore it and absorb the penalty – a 10-percent cut to their share of funds in a congressional grant program used to fight crime. The sweeping law, named the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act after the murdered son of a TV show host, was signed into law by President Bush in 2006. It requires states to adopt strict new standards for registering sex offenders and providing public information about their crimes and whereabouts. It calls on states to publish photos and addresses of sex offenders online and increases penalties for those who fail to register.
For months, however, state legislators across the country have criticized the law as a “one-size-fits-all approach” that does not give states enough time, money or flexibility to make the changes. One provision in particular has raised concern: a requirement that some juveniles as young as 14 be listed on states' online sex-offender registries. Most states do not include juveniles on online registries, and juvenile-rights advocates say listing young offenders on the Internet could subject them to harassment or violence. “You're damaging their lives and not serving any public safety,” said Sarah Bryer, director of the National Juvenile Justice Network.