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Lenore Skenazy: Would You Label This Man a Sex Offender?
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Lenore Skenazy: Would You Label This Man a Sex Offender?

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Carol Nesteikis’ son Adam is 33. He is developmentally disabled and lives in Illinois with Carol and her husband, both retired, who still have to remind him to brush his teeth and shower. He stopped wetting his bed at age 16. About 10 years ago, when a neighbor (who’d been molesting him) told him to pull down his pants in front of a girl, Adam did. The girl told her parents.

Both the neighbor and Adam were charged with 19 felonies. Adam took a plea deal and has been on the sex offender registry for seven years. He has three more to go.

Nesteikis recounts her story in the current issue of Persuasion. I’d heard her speak a few years ago at a conference in St. Louis organized by Women Against Registry. It is a story that makes clear how cruel and pointless the public sex offense registry is.

As a registrant, Adam is not allowed to leave his home between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. He lost his part-time restaurant job of clearing tables, which he’d loved. And because he is banned from parks for the rest of his life, he can no longer participate in his other passion, the Special Olympics.

The fact that a judge is always supposed to make sure that a person understands what they are pleading to — and the consequences — doesn’t seem to have mattered. Nor does the bigger fact: that the sex offense registry isn’t making kids safer.

In her article, Nesteikis quotes a 2015 report from the Department of Justice that concluded:

“Research has demonstrated that residence restrictions do not decrease and are not a deterrent for sexual recidivism.”

Even worse:

“The research suggests that residence restrictions may actually increase offender risk by undermining offender stability and the ability of the offender to obtain housing, work, and family support. There is nothing to suggest this policy should be used at this time.”

And yet, there are 900,000 people on the registry.

These days, Adam spends most of his time playing with fidget spinners and talking to Alexa. His verbal and social skills are dwindling.

Nesteikis and a handful of other parents with mentally disabled children on the registry started the Legal Reform for People Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled — LRIDD — a nonprofit dedicated to reforming the irrational sex offense laws.

“Unfortunately, Adam’s case is all too common,” says Jude Harrison, an LRIDD activist in Virginia where her autistic son endured three years in prison. The group got three bills passed into law this year: HB659, HB134 and SB 133.

“These address some of the issues people with intellectual and development disabilities face within the criminal justice system,” Harrison told Reason, including one that allows the court to defer or dismiss a case if it’s clear it was caused or directly impacted by the defendant’s disability. “Hopefully, other states will follow suit.”

In Illinois, Nesteikis has applied for a gubernatorial pardon for her son. She is doing it on her own, as the couple’s savings, meant to provide care for Adam when they are no longer here, were spent on legal fees and complying with the registry requirements. (They had to move.)

In the meantime, every year the police come by and make sure Adam is still abiding by his restrictions. One year, they knocked on everyone’s door in the apartment complex to tell them they’re living near a sex offender.

But they’re really just living near a man in his thirties who misses the Special Olympics and his job wiping tables.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?” To learn more about Lenore Skenazy (lskenazy@yahoo.com) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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