California’s sex offender registry currently lists over 100,000 sex offenders. The registry has a long history; it was first employed (although not in its current form) 70 years ago. It is estimated that around 650 registrants on the list today were first registered in the 19040’s and 50’s. Since many sex crimes in California mandate sex offender registration once convicted of the crime and in almost all cases, the mandate to register is a lifetime requirement, the registry has grown so large that it has become unwieldy. California is one of only four states in the country that requires a lifetime registration. Not only is the registry becoming unmanageable for law enforcement due to the number of individuals on the registry but the registry has also forced many registrants to live on the margins of society thereby imposing a kind of de facto life sentence.
The largest number of sex offenders on the registry, approximately 65,000, were convicted of misdemeanor or non-violent sex offenses. Some of these crimes were presumed by the offender to be a sex act with a consenting, but under age 18, partner (under California law, a minor cannot consent) or for something as non-threatening as indecent exposure. In previous decades, not that long ago, gay people were targeted by the police for having consensual sex in the park. Many of these individuals were arrested for indecent exposure and ended up with a conviction that required them to register as a sex offender. Those individuals are still required to register.
While some of the offenses may be deplorable, they do not in all cases mean the offender is a sexual predator that must be forever watched by law enforcement, yet that is how anyone on the sex offender registry is branded.