By the time he was arrested for sexually assaulting two siblings, a 15-year-old Pennsylvania boy had been molested by his alcoholic father and suffered from untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression. A 2012 state law required him to register as a sex offender with no way off the list for at least 25 years. The Associated Press reports that juvenile law advocates argue that automatic registries undermine the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile law and wrongly force judges to treat offenders the same, no matter their circumstances. Last year, a judge found the registration law violated the state constitution. Now the issue is headed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where today, juvenile advocates will argue that the registration requirement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and creates roadblocks for young people trying to rebuild their lives.
Across the U.S., a growing number of juvenile judges, advocates and policymakers are questioning the effect of the registration mandate in the 2006 federal Adam Walsh Act, named after the Florida boy abducted and killed in 1981. States that don’t comply risk losing federal law enforcement grants. A few states, including Texas and California, decided it was cheaper to opt out of the Walsh Act, and the Ohio Supreme Court has found the juvenile registry unconstitutional. Recent reports by Human Rights Watch and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission — both critical of juvenile registries — found that children lash out sexually for different reasons than adults and are less likely to reoffend.