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We’re Putting Sex Offender Stamps on Passports. Here’s Why It Won’t Curb Sex Tourism & Trafficking.

We’re Putting Sex Offender Stamps on Passports. Here’s Why It Won’t Curb Sex Tourism & Trafficking.


On October 30th, the State Department announced that passports of people who are required to register as sex offenders because of an offense involving a minor will be marked with a “unique identifier” that will read:

The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).
The law which occasions this requirement, International Megan’s Law (IML), was enacted in 2016 under President Obama. In addition to the identifier requirement, IML allows for existing passports of those on the registry to be revoked, and imposes criminal penalties on them for failure to provide the government with advance notice of international travel plans.

While U.S. law already provided for destination countries to be put on notice regarding the travel plans of those on the sex offender registry, IML ratchets things up by requiring the person to carry the government’s “identifier” with them wherever they go abroad.

Ostensibly, the rationale underlying IML and policies like it, such as its namesake, Megan’s Law — the legal and pseudo-colloquial term for the sex offender registry — is this: those on the registry have a high rate of reoffending therefore their international movements ought to be tracked and destination counties put on notice when those on the registry travel abroad. Indeed, in the text of the pre-amble to IML, it is stated that “known child-sex offenders are traveling internationally,” implying a connection between those on the sex offender registry and sex tourism, even though this connection is unsupported by evidence.

Like most legislation of this kind, IML received little serious debate and was quickly signed into law.

While IML and similar laws are packaged as a way to prevent sexual violence and exploitation, they do little to nothing to meet those objectives because they make assumptions about sexual offending that are incorrect.

For instance, people who have been convicted of sexual offenses generally have one of the lowest rates of re-offense out of any class of criminal. Dozens of studies have consistently confirmed this finding, including research from the U.S. Department of Justice. Along similar lines, a 2008 time-series analysis of 170,000 unique sex offenses found that 95.9% of the time, the perpetrator was a first-time offender.

In other words, nearly all reported sexual offending is being perpetrated by people who are not on a registry.

In light of the evidence, the argument that IML and other sex offense policies misdirect resources and attention from actual causes and obfuscate actual solutions is compelling. Experts such as John Hopkins professor and Director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse Elizabeth Letourneau have argued that, instead of focusing our attention and resources on sex offenders and criminal justice, we ought to focus on education and prevention efforts. Courts, such as the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, are also beginning to take notice. In striking down several aspects of Michigan’s sex offender registration statutes as unconstitutional in Does v. Snyder, the Court wrote:

The record below gives a thorough accounting of the significant doubt cast by recent empirical studies on the pronouncement in Smith that “[t]he risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is ‘frightening and high.’”. One study suggests that sex offenders (a category that includes a great diversity of criminals, not just pedophiles) are actually less likely to recidivate than other sorts of criminals. Even more troubling is evidence in the record supporting a finding that offense-based public registration has, at best, no impact on recidivism. In fact, one statistical analysis in the record concluded that laws such as SORA actually increase the risk of recidivism, probably because they exacerbate risk factors for recidivism by making it hard for registrants to get and keep a job, find housing, and reintegrate into their communities.
Generally, when people on the registry are returned to prison it is for a “technical” violation of their supervision, as opposed to a new sexual offense, or for failure to comply with an increasingly byzantine and Kafkaesque patchwork of laws related to the sex offender registry. For instance, last month Zach Anderson, an Indiana teen who became a poster child for the overbreadth of the sex offender registry after having sex with another teen who lied about her age on a dating app, was arrested and taken into custody for two hyper-technical violations of his supervision. In Chicago, people on the registry have been turned away by police when they tried to register as sex offenders, only to later be arrested for failing to do so.

Because approximately 96% of those on sex offender registries are first time offenders laws such as IML would not have an impact at all on preventing the vast majority of sex offenses. To state it differently, even if one assumes that laws like IML have any deterrence on sexual offending or trafficking, it is only reaching roughly 4% of reported sexual offenses.

This conclusion is impelled with equal force in the context of international travel. The U.S. Government Accountability Office and State Department quietly admitted that there is no mass exodus of people on the registry traveling to sex tourism destinations to engage in rape and child molestation: they identified three cases over a five-year period where a person on the registry was convicted for a sexual offense overseas. To put that number in perspective, there are presently more than 800,000 people on a sex offender registry in the United States in 2017.

IML is more than simply ineffective at accomplishing what its authors have intended. As commentators have observed, the marking of “a basic badge of citizenship” with a proverbial Scarlet Letter is nearly unprecedented in history. The freedom of movement, including the right to leave one’s own country, is a basic and fundamental human right outlined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Historically, the state marking the travel and civil documents of despised groups was only a prologue to further encroachments on fundamental rights.

As recent years have demonstrated, sex offenders have become a proving ground for law and policy that the public would (and should) otherwise find abhorrent. IML, and its attendant marking of the sine qua non of international travel documents, is just the latest high-profile example.

By misdirecting attention and resources away from actual causes and solutions, policies like IML obfuscate real solutions to the problems presented by sex tourism, trafficking, violence, and exploitation, and reinforce a narrative that is wholly divorced from facts. Because of this, policies like IML will only ultimately serve to perpetuate the very harms that they seek to prevent.


Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith is an author and civil rights activist focusing on sex offense law and policy, criminal justice, and civil rights. His own experiences with the registry inspired him to go to law school, though was denied the ability to take the bar exam in Kentucky. Most recently, he successfully sued Kentucky in federal court for civil rights violations. His writing has been published in various outlets such as the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal and the American Bar Association’s State of Criminal Justice. He resides in Lexington, Kentucky with his fiancé and two cats. Connect with him @G_Padraic on Twitter.

Another death sentence overturned in Las Vegas due to prosecutors racial bias.

This case was always about race,” defense attorney said.

Another death sentence overturned in Las Vegas due to prosecutors racial bias.

This case was always about race,” defense attorney said.


Last, month the Nevada Supreme Court threw out the death sentence of Julius Bradford after defense attorneys raised concerns that his trial was marred by the illegal exclusion of minority jurors.

Bradford was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012 for the 2003 murder of Anthony Limongello. His attorney, Lisa Rasmussen, argued to the Supreme Court that one potential black juror and another potential Hispanic juror were dismissed before District Judge Doug Smith held a hearing on the reasons for their dismissal. The Justices agreed, citing “structural error” in the judge’s actions.

“This case was always about race,” Rasmussen said during oral arguments in September.

Bradford is expected to be retried by Clark County Prosecutor Steve Wolfson, who has been in office since 2012.

In recent years, the Nevada Supreme Court has vacated multiple convictions originating in Clark County due to similar allegations of racial discrimination during jury selection.

Jason McCarty was convicted of the murders of two Las Vegas prostitutes in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison. In March 2016 his conviction was thrown out after justices ruled that Clark County prosecutors showed “purposeful discrimination” when using a peremptory challenge to keep a 28-year-old black woman off the jury.

Prosecutors claimed they removed the woman from the jury pool after a background check revealed she had once worked as a waitress at a strip club and had a brother who had been convicted of a crime 13 years earlier. But the Justices expressed skepticism about that argument since similar background check weren’t conducted on other potential jurors.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Michael Cherry ruled the trial judge did not adequately question the reason provided by the prosecutor for excluding the juror.

In another case originating in Clark County, the conviction and death sentence of Charles Reese Conner was reversed in 2014 after the Nevada Supreme Court determined that prosecutors illegally removed a black man from the jury pool. In that case prosecutors used six of nine peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from the jury.

Justice Cherry wrote that prosecutors did not offer satisfactory explanations for why these jurors were excluded. He specifically highlighted a black man who was removed by prosecutors even after maintaining he would have no problem imposing the death penalty. That man was a United State Air Force Reserve officer who had worked as a corrections officer and a police officer. Cherry wrote that there was no reason to remove him based on his answers during jury selection.

Multiple studies have documented that prosecutors across the country use peremptory challenges to strike potential black jurors at a rate of two or three times the rate they use to strike other jurors.

In a 2015 article, the New York Times wrote: “Here are some reasons prosecutors have offered for excluding blacks from juries: They were young or old, single or divorced, religious or not, failed to make eye contact, lived in a poor part of town, had served in the military, had a hyphenated last name, displayed bad posture, were sullen, disrespectful or talkative, had long hair, wore a beard.”

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Dispatch: The Torrid Love Affair Between Liberals and Bill “Broken Windows” Bratton

Dispatches is our series from organizers, attorneys, officials, and others working at the frontlines of local criminal justice reform.

Dispatch: The Torrid Love Affair Between Liberals and Bill “Broken Windows” Bratton

Dispatches is our series from organizers, attorneys, officials, and others working at the frontlines of local criminal justice reform.


It was a cold night in 2013 outside of a star-studded gala hosted by The Nationmagazine. A dozen policing activists, including myself, were waiting for Mayor elect Bill de Blasio’s police-chauffeured car. We were there to protest de Blasio, who was the featured speaker, over his first, and most important, political appointment: Bill ‘Broken Windows’ Bratton.

For some, de Blasio’s embrace of Bratton back to head the NYPD was strange: He was Rudy Giuliani’s pitbull in the early 90’s until Giuliani famously jettisoned the former Boston cop, reportedly over political jealousy. For others, the return of Bratton was a strategic move by de Blasio, who would be red meat for tabloids and the few, but loud, right wing voices in the city, like the Manhattan Institute and the police unions.

Bratton was beloved by conservatives, locally and nationally for heralding in an era of tough-on-crime policies, including the Broken Windows theory of policing, which says aggressive enforcement against quality-of-life offenses reduces serious crime. However, the political marriage between Bratton and de Blasio, a self-proclaimed reformer, liberal and progressive, should have surprised no one. Key liberal politicians and pundits from New York to Los Angeles absolutely love Bratton, for his crime-fighting reputation — and the feeling is mutual.

The latest public display of affection between Bratton and his liberal enablers was featured in the opinion section of the New York Daily News Monday (“Salute de Blasio’s policing miracle” ). In this op-ed, Bratton once againgloated about how under de Blasio he’d received “more resources than I had ever gotten from one of my mayors.” He’s right, de Blasio has been quite generous to the NYPD: in 2016, de Blasio, along with a purportedly “progressive” New York City Council gifted Bratton’s NYPD almost 1,300 extra police officers at a cost of hundreds millions of dollars amid protests and historic lows in crime.

Bratton’s show of support for de Blasio was timed to hit newsstands the day before the mayoral election, which the incumbent won handily. But the endorsement from a rockstar policing guru wasn’t about ensuring that a liberal progressive defeats an unremarkable Republican challenger — it was about signaling that the bond between liberals and the most powerful police figure in the last few decades remains as strong as ever.

Not long after our protest outside the 2013 gala, there was another strategically-timed love note, this one by the head of an established civil rights nonprofit in Los Angeles that gave its blessings and to Bratton. This time, it was in the prestigious pages of the New York Times. There, former Advancement Project co-director Connie Rice fawningly praised Bratton (the police chief in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2009), who she said won over the trust of the black community and even civil rights organizations like hers (“Hail to the Chief”, December 10th, 2013).

Rice (cousin to Condi Rice of Bush administration fame) spoke glowingly about Bratton’s willingness to listen and learn “from everyone — the mayor or a gang member,” a curious appraisal given Bratton’s history of questionable gang injunctions in LA and, later, an escalation of gang raids in NYC.

Without a doubt, the Rice op-ed was designed to give Bratton civil rights cover while also alleviating the concerns of New York liberals over Bratton, the champion of Broken Windows. The Rice piece also worked to undermine and neutralize criticisms of Bratton by community groups in LA, like the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA-CAN), who warned about Bratton’s rebranding in the media:

There has been a wave of articles since Chief Bratton’s reinstatement and very few of them have been critical of his record in Los Angeles. Instead, we have been bombarded with Bratton quotes and politically connected civil rights advocates assertions that have nothing to do with the realities in our communities. LA CAN will work to set the record straight as the “Bratton media express” rolls out its fabricated versions of Los Angeles policing because the record should be clear and authentic.

To what might one attribute this discrepancy in volume afforded to the head of a civil rights organization, like Rice (who, west coast organizers often point out to me, used to park in the LAPD parking lot) and to that of grassroots organizers? Well, for one, the press was more than willing to listen to supporters of Bratton, who has always been a media favorite. Another factor was that Rice wasn’t the only liberal establishment figure who has been enamored with Bratton.

Former president Barack Obama has tipped his hat to Bratton, and vice versa. Even the current liberal darling Kamala Harris, the former prosecutor turned California Senator who some hope will become the Democratic nominee for President in 2020, heaped immense praise on Bratton and his Broken Windows policing in her 2009 book, Smart On Crime. And there have been other influential voices, like Jill Leovy, noted author of the international bestseller, Ghettoside, who gushed to Slate last year about the “beautiful” quotes she’d gotten from Bratton as he waxed poetic to her about the political nature of his work.

In the last three years, thanks to pressure from grassroots organizers in New York City, Broken Windows policing has finally come under intense scrutiny. The political pendulum has swung so far away from quality-of-life policing (with the notable exception of Mayor de Blasio, who has continuously voiced his support for Bratton’s cherished approach) that it’s become somewhat mainstream now to be against Broken Windows.

However, the love affair between Bratton and liberal political circles is as strong as ever. Bratton’s op-ed for de Blasio isn’t very different from the time he endorsed Harris during her campaign to become California’s Attorney General in 2009 or when he went to bat for another ‘progressive’ during Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s re-election bid that same year. In fact, the Villaraigosa campaign’s television ads that Bratton appeared then were eerily familiar to Bratton’s shout-out to de Blasio this week, congratulating Villaraigosa for adding 1,000 more cops and touting the Democrat’s support for police.

You see, the congratulatory pats on the back and ringing political endorsements between Bratton and liberals is predictable. Even in bluer than blue cities like New York or Boston, where Mayor Joe “Marty” Walsh, has received the endorsement of the Boston Patrolmen’s Association, liberals love police and police love the liberals that are loyal to them. But there is special place in the liberal heart for figures like Bratton, a political and media savvy cop who makes progressive hearts swoon with promises of data-driven enforcement and “community policing” even as he ushers in the orwellian era of predictive policing and clings to archaic manifestos like the utterly racist Moynihan report.

For grassroots activists and the everyday person getting arrested for jumping a turnstile or a nickel bag of weed, the message is clear: there’s a bubble in which law enforcement bigwigs like Bratton, progressive politicians, media elites and other insiders operate within — and we aren’t in it.


Josmar Trujillo is writer and activist based in East Harlem. He organizes with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a coalition of grassroots groups based in New York. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

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