The Violent Offender Registry

In the upcoming legislative session, state Sen. Will Espero will sponsor a bill that would establish a public registry for convicted violent offenders, similar to Hawaii’s existing sex offender registry.

In the upcoming legislative session, state Sen. Will Espero will sponsor a bill that would establish a public registry for convicted violent offenders, similar to Hawaii’s existing sex offender registry. Espero says he was inspired by two recent cases in which paroled murderers allegedly went on to commit new crimes. Would a registry make Hawaii safer?

[YES] State Sen. Will Espero
20th Senate District

[NO] Howard Luke
Defense Attorney

The basic idea of this registry is to provide disclosure and information to the public. The public should have easy access to the names and addresses of convicted violent offenders, because if there’s a murderer in your neighborhood, you may not want to associate with that individual, or let your children go into his home to play.

Some argue that a registry like this may not stop a crime, but it does give the general public a tool that will help citizens to make informed decisions about placing themselves in certain situations.

The key words here are “violent offender.” We’re not talking about pickpockets or car thieves, but people who could pose a real danger to society. Criminal convictions are already public record; if you know how to get this information, it is available to you. A registry simply makes it more accessible and useful.

I understand the argument that this registry would unfairly stigmatize convicted offenders who have paid their debt to society, but I believe that the overall benefit to society justifies that cost. This registry should simply be seen as one of the prices you pay for committing a violent crime in our society.

I wouldn’t make this a permanent registry. I’m willing to allow these violent offenders the chance to prove that they can abide by the law. If you get out of prison, keep on the straight and narrow and don’t commit any crimes for, say, five years, you’re off the registry. It’s not going to guarantee that they’ll never commit another crime, but it does focus more tightly on compulsive, repeat offenders.

I think we’ll be able to consider this registry a success if one person uses it and becomes educated about a violent offender in his or her neighborhood. If we can make our communities and neighborhoods safer, it’s better for everyone.

It is always disturbing to learn that a person convicted of a violent offense has been released from prison, only to commit another crime of violence. It’s only natural to ask how the situation could have been prevented. Questions such as these inspired State Sen. Will Espero to promote

legislation for a violent offender registry. But will the societal costs of such a registry be outweighed by any perceived benefit to the public? I don’t believe so.

Studies have shown that the majority of those who have been convicted of violent offenses and have served their time do not reoffend. For them, the proposed registry will only foster community reproach, making it almost impossible to reintegrate into normal society. It may even end up promoting recidivism rather than deterring it, as registered offenders are frustrated in their efforts to gain honest employment, fair housing opportunities and simple community interaction.

But what of the two convicted murderers whose alleged relapses prompted the idea for the murder registry? It is extremely unlikely that such a registry would have prevented the new offenses with which they have been charged. In one case, the alleged perpetrator had reportedly already shared his criminal history with the congregation that had embraced him; in the other, the circumstances of the offense that have been reported strongly suggest that, sadly, access to such a registry would not have been possible.

For those who do not deserve reentry into the community—and there will be some who do not—there are far more effective means to maximize public safety than inclusion in the registry as envisioned by this legislation. Let us not forsake those men and women who, having paid their debt to society, now seek to regain their rightful place in our community.