Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is A Domestic Violence Registry A Good Idea?

A state representative in Texas has proposed a bill that would create a domestic violence computer database. It would work much like the sex offender's database, but would be used for chronic domestic violence offenders.

The bill being proposed creates a database that the state controls and publishes online. A person would be entered into the database upon their third conviction for a domestic violence crime. There are obvious reasons for those who support this bill to want such a thing to exist. The question is whether or not such a database is such a good idea. Especially given that many of the crimes that would be considered eligible for the database are misdemeanors rather than serious felonies.

The sex offender's database that exists in most states has occasionally been some kind of blessing, but it's had a lot of problems as well. Often, people with similar names are mistaken for those who are in the database and some states, such as California, are labeling crimes that are not sex crimes as such in order to enter those names in the database as well. The system has seen a fair amount of abuse and has not been proven to lower sex crime rates by any measure.

Opponents of the domestic violence d-base in Texas have pointed out that the state has a budget shortfall of $27 billion and this bill would just create a new, costly bureaucracy. Further, putting someone into this database creates a more-or-less permanent record so that even if the person were to get their name removed (say on appeal or after expungement), it's likely their name would continue to be on copies of the database around the Internet.

That second issue is a big one and worth considering closely. As with the sex crimes database, it can be assumed that many people will copy or republish a domestic crimes database around the Web. So removing yourself from the state-run database would not necessarily mean being removed from the list itself, which could be in many locations. So the stigma of being an offender would follow the person potentially forever.

So this is a question of punishment versus the public good. Most crimes are already a "permanent" stigma on a person's record. Many jobs (even the most menial) and even credit checks now include criminal background checks. To date, the only way to clear up one's criminal record and improve job prospects has been through the expungement process. Most sociologists agree that this is a large contributor to the problem of recidivism in our country.

Is the domestic violence database a good idea then? Although the idea sounds good and appears to be something that will "combat domestic violence," that is an illusion. Just as the sexual predator's database has done little to curb sex crime in the U.S., a database for domestic violence offenders is even less likely to have a positive effect on domestic violence rates.


  1. Not a good idea. Enforcement of the law is what we need.

  2. I also think it's not a great idea. Better to go on with law procedures........

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