When this mother speaks on this particular issue, know that every one of her words is valuable and chosen carefully.
Patty Wetterling lost a son to the actions of a sex offender. But she now has misgivings about a sex offender registry she helped create.
Her concerns are worthy of attention.
Wetterling’s son Jacob was abducted and killed in 1989 in central Minnesota by an area man. After Jacob’s disappearance, Wetterling worked to establish a sex offender registry that would help flag offenders for law enforcement. (The man who 27 years later admitted to Jacob’s abduction and killing would not have actually been on such a registry because he’d never been charged or convicted of a sex crime.)
Today Wetterling has concerns that the registry, drastically changed over the years by the Legislature to aggressively capture more offenders, has overreached.
Minnesota’s list now includes over 18,000 registrants, including juveniles, some not much older than 11-year-old Jacob when he was kidnapped, the Star Tribune reports.
Wetterling and others are urging the Legislature to consider reforming the registry so it doesn’t cast such a wide net, snagging a high number of juvenile offenders, some who haven’t even had a conviction or had committed more minor offenses, such as public urination.
Wetterling herself has been approached by families who don’t want to report a sexual offense between two child family members because they don’t want the child to end up on a registry. In that scenario, no one gets the help they need, she said.
And getting off the list is difficult. Attorney Jim Fleming, a former chief public defender in Mankato who now works in Ramsey County, told the Star Tribune that a man in his 30s came to him because he was put on the registry as a 13-year-old. His 10-year period on the list restarted after a disorderly conduct charge, and then again after another unrelated charge. Fleming had to tell the man there was no way to appeal his time on the list.
Teens, who are still in the midst of brain development, have some of the lowest rates of reoffending. Many have the potential and time to change their destructive patterns or learn that their behavior is not acceptable and change it. Wetterling and other child advocates want to make sure those kids get a chance to do that.
The Legislature needs to review the registry and change it so that youth who don’t belong on the list stay off of it.