Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
Adolescents are treated differently than adults in Illinois’ court system until it comes to sex offenders. “Kids” and adults are both put on a sex offender registry which affects where they can go, where they can live and with whom they can associate.
The federal government in what is called the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act set out uniform, tough, minimum standards for sex offender registries. However, this legislation provided an exception to the registry for teenage consensual sexual activity—so-called “Romeo and Juliet” situations.
HB 1139, which passed out of a House committee this week, uses this exemption to change the way Illinois treats non-violent teenager situations. If the relationship was consensual, between two people at least 14 years old and no more than 4 years apart in age, the sex offender could appeal to the court to be removed from the registry. The offender would still have the offense on their criminal record.
I agreed to sponsor the legislation to allow Illinois to utilize the federal exemption for teenagers and help them to rebuild their lives. Most of these offenders are not a risk to society and should be allowed to appeal their case before a judge.
In talking with a number of the teenage sex offenders, I learned how being on the sex offender registry put their lives and their future career plans on hold. They can’t get a job, attend school activities with even their own children or go to public places where other children might be present.
Currently, nine other states are looking to modify their sex offender registration laws as they pertain to adolescents. Texas reports over 100 such cases per week and they are clogging their justice system and preventing police from focusing on violent criminal activity.
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