In one Pennsylvania county, more than three times as many people on the registry were charged in 2016 with failing to follow registry requirements than were charged with a new sexual offense

In January 2015, Franklin Barrick packed his bags and moved out of his home near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, leaving his wife behind. For most, the end of a marriage would bring divorce proceedings in civil court, but for Barrick it yielded felony criminal charges.

Why?

Because Barrick is on the sex offender registry. In 2007, he was arrested for having sexual conversations via internet chat programs and sending sexual images to a person who he thought was a 13-year-old girl but turned out to be agents with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. As a registrant, Barrick must alert police when he changes his residence, purchases a new vehicle, attends school, or even opens a Facebook account.

So when Barrick failed to alert authorities after he left his wife, he was charged by Pennsylvania State Police with felony failure to comply with sex offender registry requirements. In April 2015, he was taken into police custody and held for nearly 200 days in Franklin County Jail on $60,000 cash bail set by the judge.

Later, Barrick pleaded guilty to two counts of felony conduct relating to sexual offenders—failure to notify—and was sentenced to 11 to 23 months’ confinement plus 21 years’ probation. He was also ordered by pay more than $2,000 in fines and fees.

Hundreds of people every year in Pennsylvania are arrested and face incarceration for failing to comply with sex offender registry requirements. People on the registry are required to provide their address, work information, information about vehicles they drive, social media accounts, and other personal information, as well as regularly have their photograph taken by police. When any of that information changes, police must be notified within three days. The Appeal identified nearly 900 criminal cases where a defendant was charged with failure to comply with sex offender registry requirements in Pennsylvania in 2016 alone.

But sex offender registry laws do not increase public safety, says Chrysanthi Leon, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware. “We’re really creating a false sense of security for ourselves when we convince ourselves that by detecting and naming and then further surveilling this small group of people will solve any problems,” Leon told The Appeal. Leon said most charged sexual offenses are committed by first-time sexual offenders and not by people who are on the registry.

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