During confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, Republicans hammered away at her record in cases involving sex offenders. Much of that centered around misleading claims about sentences she handed out to people convicted of possessing child pornography. But GOP senators also repeatedly questioned Jackson on her views on sex offender registries, a topic she wrote about as a law student in the 1990s.
In 1994, Congress enacted a law mandating that all states create registries of people convicted of sex offenses and crimes against children. Two years later, it passed what’s known as Megan’s Law, a follow-up bill that made information in those registries available to the public. Since then, a broad slate of new laws has been passed, which expanded the types of crimes that classify someone as a sex offender and imposed strict rules they must meet to avoid further criminal punishment. As of 2018, there were an estimated 900,000 people in the U.S. listed on sex offender registries.
The vast majority of Americans believe sex offender registries make their communities safer, according to polls. A growing body of research, however, suggests otherwise. A long list of studies using decades of data have found no significant evidence that registries prevent sex crimes. Some even indicate that the laws imposed on sex offenders may make them more likely to commit crimes in the future.