Shaun Webb is one of 43,000 sex offenders in Michigan, most of whom appear on the state online sex offender registry. Each state has a digital registry that can be searched on the Internet with a total of 800,000 names. The registries are widely monitored by parents, potential employers and cautious neighbors. Webb was convicted of a misdemeanor of groping a girl, which he denies. He must remain on the list until 2013. He tells the Detroit Free Press the listing has meant a decade of poverty, unemployment, harassment and depression. Michigan’s law and those in some other states have come under fire as overly broad, vague and potentially unconstitutional. Michigan has the fourth-highest per capita number of people on its registry and is one of only 13 states that counts public urination as a sex crime.
Research suggests registries do little to protect communities and often create ongoing misery for some who served their sentences and are unlikely to re-offend. Even some early advocates have changed their minds about registries, including Patty Wetterling, the mother of Jacob Wetterling, who went missing when he was 11 and was never found. At the time, Wetterling lobbied passionately for a federal law authorizing registries and was at the White House in 1994 when President Bill Clinton signed legislation into law. She now advocates revisiting the laws, saying some juveniles and others who made mistakes are unnecessarily tarred for decades or life. “Should they never be given a chance to turn their lives around?” she said. “Instead, we let our anger drive us.” Some legislators and law enforcement officials say registries are useful because they help keep track of potentially dangerous people. The supporters dismiss the research, saying it’s impossible to determine who might re-offend.