Lifelong registries ignore research that shows recidivism risks drop over time, according to a new challenge of N.J.'s child abuse registry. (Getty Images)
A Passaic County man has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s registry of child abusers, saying it unfairly condemns people to the list for life even when they’re unlikely to reoffend.
Being on the state child abuse registry can impact someone’s career for their whole life — even barring them from jobs that have nothing to do with children, the lawsuit charges. It also can restrict their ability to adopt or parent, according to the complaint filed last week in state Superior Court.
The plaintiff, identified as K.C., is asking a judge to declare lifetime registration without a chance for removal unconstitutional and to terminate his registration. The lawsuit names Attorney General Matt Platkin and state Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer as defendants. DCF’s Child Abuse Record Information (CARI) unit oversees the registry.
Attorney James H. Maynard represents K.C., now 42, who landed on the registry 25 years ago for a sexual offense involving a sibling that occurred when both were children.
Lifetime registration requirements ignore that recidivism risks fall over time, Maynard told the New Jersey Monitor.
“Lifetime registries are wrong,” he said. “They’re wrong based on the science and they’re wrong based on the reality that risk is not static. It is dynamic. Risk declines over time in virtually all cases, but the CARI registry is for life with no right of review, and no process for removal.”
A Beyer spokesperson declined to comment.
New Jersey created its first child abuse registry in 1971, and legislators have expanded it several times since then.
Now, a CARI check can disqualify someone from a job — even at workplaces where there are no children, such as drug treatment — mental health and jail diversion programs, and health care services for geriatric and developmentally disabled adults, according to the lawsuit.
And while crimes committed as a juvenile don’t show up on criminal background checks, they do appear on CARI checks, according to the complaint.
K.C. is a counselor who has worked in adult psychiatric care but has withdrawn from his bids for promotions and new job opportunities, afraid a CARI check would reveal his childhood offense, according to the lawsuit.
He’s single and childless and would like to adopt someday, but his inclusion on the child abuse registry is “akin to a ‘Scarlet Letter,'” implies he’s dangerous, and reduces the likelihood he will be approved as an adoptive parent, the lawsuit charges.
“We need to be very careful if we’re going to employ registries as a means of social organization,” Maynard said. “We need to make sure that they don’t inappropriately infringe on people’s rights, and that they are not permanent or without right of review and removal.”
The lawsuit also seeks more transparency around the child abuse registry, which isn’t publicly accessible the way the Megan’s Law registry for sex offenders is. People who don’t contest their placement on the child abuse registry within 20 days are denied access afterward to the state’s records on their case, according to the complaint.
“Once they put you on it, you can’t even see what’s in your file. You can’t have a lawyer review it. You can’t get it and review it yourself,” Maynard said. “Everyone deserves to have the right to review what the CARI registry has relating to them, and to present evidence that they no longer pose a risk for the same or similar conduct.”
Registration on the child abuse registry is lifelong, even though courts have trended toward leniency for juvenile offenders in recognition of brain research that shows people don’t fully mature until their mid-20s.
In April 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that people convicted of sex crimes they committed as children can petition to get off the lifelong Megan’s Law registry if they commit no new crimes for 15 years. K.C. successfully petitioned to be removed from the Megan’s Law registry in December 2018, according to his lawsuit.
Reformers have been fighting to exempt juveniles from sex offender registries altogether.
A spokesperson for Platkin didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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