Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

Children adjudicated delinquent of any offense should be held accountable and face developmentally appropriate sanctions that take into account what every parent knows – children are developmentally immature and have a distinctive capacity for change. Specifically with respect to sex offenses, research shows that teenagers who are adjudicated delinquent of such offenses are unlikely to be repeat offenders.1

In fact, in a recent Pennsylvania study, less than 2% of all individuals who committed a sex offense as a juvenile committed another such offense.2  Legal requirements that youth be listed on sex offender registries (often for life) ignore this research. Juvenile Law Center collaborates with defense attorneys nationwide to challenge juvenile sex offender registration statutes.

In 2006, Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Title I of the Act, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), subjects many children adjudicated delinquent to the same registration requirements as convicted adult sex offenders. While SORNA requires registration of children 14 and older, most states have their own additional registration requirements. Children as young as eight may be required to register as sex offenders for crimes ranging from the very serious, such as rape, to more minor misconduct such as consensual sex, public nudity, and public urination.

Children who register as sex offenders must:

  • Provide extensive personal information to state police;
  • Verify this information, often in-person, on a regular basis for the duration of their registration requirement; and
  • Regularly report changes in their appearance, residence, employment, and other habits (with failure to make such reports a new crime, often leading to mandatory incarceration).

Some states also require community notification, which can mean that children's names, addresses, and offenses will be listed on publicly accessible websites or that law enforcement has authority to share information about the children with the public.

Juvenile Law Center is working to end juvenile sex offender registration because data show that subjecting juveniles to long-term registration and notification requirements does not improve public safety and actually harms youth. In 2014, Juvenile Law Center successfully challenged SORNA’s registration requirements for children in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that mandatory, lifetime registration was unconstitutional. Following the Court's decision, Juvenile Law Center is working with advocates in other jurisdictions to develop litigation and other reform strategies.


1 Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 INT’L J. OFFENDER THERAPY & COMP. CRIMINOLOGY 197, 198 (2010); adults. Id. at 197; A Multi-State Recidivism Study Using Static-99R & Static-2002 Risk Scores & Tier Guidelines from the Adam Walsh Act, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUST. 24, 32 https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/240099.pdf
2 Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 198 (2010) (citing to recidivism studies dating back to 1994).


Last update: 2/11/2015

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