New Report Calls for the End of Youth Registration in Florida
An issue as serious as sexual violence requires a response rooted in evidence. A common response nationwide is the practice of placing youth on sex offender registries. However, this fails to advance public safety or prevent sexual violence and has devastating consequences for registered youth and their families. In 2020, Juvenile Law Center released Labeled for Life, a report surveying state laws that place children and youth on sex offender registries. The report found that of the 38 states that currently register youth, Florida’s laws are some of the harshest—children as young as 14 can be placed on the public registry for life and are required to check in with law enforcement every three months. Any failure to comply exactly with Florida’s complex 6,000-word registration law places youth at risk of a $5,000 fine and 15 years of imprisonment.
Registering Youth in the Sunshine State: A Report on Florida’s Harmful Sex Offender Registration Laws is a deep dive into youth registration in Florida. It examines Florida’s youth registration laws and how they came to be. The report further examines city and county ordinances that affect registered youth and data on registered youth in Florida. In 2006, Florida convened a state taskforce on adolescent sexual violence which recommended against youth registration. Yet, the following year, the state legislature passed the first youth registration law. Since then, at least 450 youth have been placed on Florida’s registry following juvenile adjudications and, from the inception of Florida’s registry in 1993, an unknown number of youth tried as adults have been placed on the registry.
Data on youth registered following a juvenile adjudication show racial disparities. While 21% of Florida youth are Black, 34% of registered youth in Florida are Black. Black youth on the registry are more likely to be charged with failure to register and are more likely to experience homelessness or have unstable housing.
The report also highlights the variation in registration across the state. For example, Escambia County, which represents 1.5% of the state’s population is responsible for 8% of youth on the registry. An array of city and county ordinances and school board policies also impact youths’ abilities to engage in healthy, normal adolescent activities such as playing basketball in a park, dressing up for Halloween, or attending high school. These ordinances may also impact where youth can live and work.
The report calls for abolition of Florida’s youth registration scheme to align with the research on youth registration and free up resources for evidence-based practices rooted in community.