When Ricky Blackman was 16, he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl, and an Iowa judge ordered him to register as a sex offender. If Blackman had lived in at least a half-dozen other states, reports the Associated Press, his name would never have appeared on a registry because states are divided on how to deal with the nation’s youngest sex offenders. Juvenile justice advocates want rehabilitation instead of registration; public safety experts argue children must be protected from predators, even if they are minors.
The confusing array of rules for juvenile sex offenders persists despite a vast overhaul that was adopted four years ago to bring clarity and consistency to the nation’s sex offender regristration laws. “It’s a real bind for the states,” said Michele Deitch, who teaches criminal justice policy at the University of Texas. “Do you want to comply with what could be poor public policy or risk not complying with the federal law? And there’s no easy answer.” Twenty-one states currently require juveniles convicted of a serious sex crime to register with law enforcement, found an Associated Press review of state laws and interviews with state officials. In 19 other states, only juveniles convicted as adults or who move from a state that requires registration are required to provide their information to authorities. In the remaining states, the laws vary.