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MA: Sex offender registry: Public safety or Scarlet Letter?

June 15, 2003

By Erik Arvidson

BOSTON In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "A Scarlet Letter," a married woman who is caught engaging in an adulterous affair with a priest is forced to wear the letter "A" on her clothing, and is subjected to public humiliation and shame.

Some criminal psychology experts worry that the same thing could happen to dangerous sex offenders today, should their names be placed on the Internet by the state.

Gov. Mitt Romney wants names and profiles published, so that people will know if a convicted sex offender is living in their neighborhood.

Privacy experts say that tact will boomerang, and result in hundreds of people who can't find a job or a place to live.

"Putting this information on the Internet does not serve the protection of public safety. It further trashes the reputation of the former offender and diminishes his or her ability to reintegrate back into the community," said Carol Donovan, an attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

The state Sex Offender Registry Board began posting the names and pictures of convicted sex offenders on its Web site. But a group of offenders, represented by Donovan, sued, saying state law does not allow that information to be disseminated in that way. A Superior Court judge agreed, and blocked the registry board's efforts.

Earlier this month, Ronmey filed legislation to change the law to allow Internet postings. He said that would be quicker than appealing the judge's ruling.

Romney said the issue is not allowing former sex offenders to become productive, but to protect public safety.

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Source: 2003 Lowell Sun Online