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In Texas, Juvenile Sex Offenders Get Virtual Life Sentence

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When Allen and his girlfriend moved into their Austin-area house, a woman down the street passed out fliers warning neighbors a monster had moved in next door. His front door was egged, their cars broken into, and “people started crossing the street instead of walking in front of my house,” said Allen, who asked that the Current not use his full name.

Allen spent much of his childhood in a Texas Youth Commission facility for inappropriately touching a 7-year-old family member; Allen was 11 at the time. He first registered as a sex offender with the Texas Department of Public Safety at age 20, when he was released from TYC for the offense. If you look him up on the state’s public sex-offender registry, you’ll see the photo of a near-30 year old convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a 7 year old (any sexual assault against a child under 14 is considered aggravated).

Work has been hard to find since he got out of TYC — employers, Allen says, naturally shy away from hiring registered child molesters. When he signed up for classes at Austin Community College, the school displayed his information and photograph around campus as a warning to other students. Housing is difficult to come by, he says.

“It’s a hard thing to explain to someone once they find out,” Allen told the Current. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m not really this awful person. I just had a fucked up childhood, I was punished, I’ve tried to deal with it, and I’m doing the best I can with my life.’ No one wants to hear that explanation. … It’s like I’m a leper.”

Texas is one of at least 10 states that put children found guilty in juvenile courts on public sex-offender registries. Texas has no limit on how young children placed on its registry can be. Adults who committed their crimes as children and served their time in juvenile facilities must continually update their address, workplace, and photograph on the public registry. Each year, the age gap between victim and offender widens.

“Kids are getting life-long punishment in juvenile court,” said Nicole Pittman, a Soros Senior Justice Advocacy Fellow with Human Rights Watch, and a leading researcher on juvenile sex offenders. For years, Pittman has investigated what happens when you put child offenders on public sex-offender registries, interviewing nearly 300 youth offenders, many of them in Texas, along with defense attorneys, prosecutors, and even victims of child-on-child sexual assault. Based on her research, Human Rights Watch last week released “Raised on the Registry,” an extensive report that advocates removing children from public sex-offender registries.

Due to residency restrictions — originally meant to keep adult offenders from living near schools, parks, or anywhere else frequented by children — some child offenders can’t finish their education or even live with their families once out of youth lockup. Some families face retaliation and even threats of violence because their address appears on the registry. The list drives some child offenders to suicide, according to the HRW report.

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