Knowledge is power

Ohio’s violent criminal registry: could it hurt?

By Sarah Sidlow

Sierah Joughin, 20, of Fulton County was riding her bicycle when she was abducted and killed last year. Joughin wasn’t her killer’s first victim. In fact, James D. Worley, 57, had been charged for abducting another girl, this one in Lucas County, 26 years earlier.

When Joughin first went missing, law enforcement officers first contacted those who had been put on a registry of sex offenders—that is, after all, one of the designs of sex offender registries. But Worley, though he had a criminal record, wasn’t a sex offender. When Joughin’s family and friends asked for a list of violent offenders, they were surprised to learn that no such registry existed. That’s because the information about violent crimes is listed by case number—not by criminal.

Enter: “Sierah’s Law,” aka Senate Bill 67, which would require Attorney General Mike DeWine to develop a violent offender database. Indiana, Illinois, Montana, Kansas, and Oklahoma already have violent-offender registries, but they differ in which crimes qualify and how registrants may be removed. (In Ohio, should this bill pass, those decisions would be up to DeWine.) On the table are crimes like aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, abduction, and conspiracy or attempted conspiracy to commit such crimes.

Supporters argue that a violent offender registry may help law enforcement track down helpful leads in those crucial few hours after someone goes missing. They point to the unfortunate reality that those who are involved in violent crimes are likely to commit them repeatedly. And they argue that it should be pretty straightforward to see if someone has been engaged in violent activity—even if they’ve moved from another county. (Fun fact: In addition to keeping a sex offender registry, Ohio also keeps one for arsonists.)

But there are those who also argue that our current registry laws are poorly crafted and ill-conceived—and many times do more harm than good. To start, adding someone’s name to a list does not directly protect potential victims from harm. Moreover, social justice groups, like Human Rights Watch, argue that laws aimed at people convicted of sex offenses often lead to harassment, ostracism, and violence against former offenders. More than 760,000 names appear on sex offender registries nationally. These types of registries, which have been in place nationwide since the ’90s, often include a wide range of offenses, from public urination to violent sex crimes. In fact, many argue, a majority of people on the list are victims of unfortunate (stupid) circumstance: a drunken urinary mishap in college, for example, that now has led to a lifetime of being ostracized from society and banned from living a number of neighborhoods, cities, and counties. Opponents argue, this is not the way to stop serious crime—it’s a way to create a stigma against good people.

According to the Toledo Blade, DeWine supports SB 67, and the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association recently voted to support the concept. In a letter to the committee, the attorney general said his office could piggyback onto the sex-offender registry system. 

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should Ohio establish a violent crimes registry?

You can run but you can’t hide

Registries help round up the usual suspects

By Tim Smith

The internet has opened many doors that were previously locked, including public records. Would you like to find out if someone has ever been in criminal or civil court, or how much they paid in property taxes? All it takes is a few keystrokes in a search engine and presto—it’s right there. Gone are the days when you had to hire a private eye who had a buddy on the police force to find this information. Now, you only need to let your fingers do the walking over a keyboard. Is that such a bad thing?

There is currently a bill pending in the Ohio House of Representatives (Senate Bill 67, aka “Sierah’s Law”) to create a statewide violent offender registry. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association have given their support, and petitions in favor of the law are filling up quickly. We already have sex, arson, and abuser offender registries, the latter to protect the developmentally disabled. Apparently, this is the next logical step to find out if people are what they say they are.

What brought this to the forefront was a case in which a young woman named Sierah Joughin of Fulton County in northwest Ohio was abducted and killed last year. The perpetrator had committed a similar crime 26 years earlier in another Ohio county, but his record wasn’t listed by his name, only by the case number. The local police and the FBI didn’t know this man was living nearby since he was not required by law to register his whereabouts. If he had, the authorities might have looked at him sooner than they did.

We have these registries for a good reason. It’s no longer a safe world out there. To put it bluntly, people are just plain crazy now. Senseless acts of violence permeate the news, schools and workplaces are being shot up, and road rage has become all too commonplace. Extensive background checks are standard operating procedure when you apply for a job, and many employers will run your name through social media to see what you post on your own time. Why not have a registry for violent felons like we do for sex offenders and arsonists? It’s a sad psychological fact that many offenders will offend again, so what’s the harm in knowing who you’re dealing with up front?

I have worked with the developmentally disabled population for many years, and have access to a statewide abuser registry, as does anyone else who is looking for a caregiver. To land on “The List,” someone must have been convicted of abusing a developmentally disabled citizen or violating his or her civil rights. Things that qualify range from theft of personal property to physical and sexual abuse. A domestic violence conviction will also put your name up in lights. Many agencies, public and private, have found this to be a valuable tool when considering someone for employment. Surprise, surprise—some people actually lie on job applications!

Civil rights advocates argue that these registries violate a person’s right to privacy and could stigmatize former felons who have served the time for their crime. Among those who question the need for public access is Rep. Peggy Lehner of Kettering, who contends that viewing a person’s criminal record might make them targets. On the flip side, many law enforcement personnel would prefer that the public be informed about who’s living down the street. If you polled most people, I think you’d discover that many would trade some of that privacy for a little peace of mind and the feeling of security. Employers would also like to know if they’re getting what’s advertised.

I’m certainly not suggesting that violent felons be required to wear a scarlet “F” on their chests for the rest of their lives. In cases like Sierah Joughin’s, though, do you think the police might have closed the case sooner if they knew that someone with a record for a similar crime was residing in the area?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep certain parts of your life to yourself. On a personal note, my late father didn’t understand this newfangled information-age thing, and he didn’t own a computer or a smartphone. The last time he moved, he was perplexed when someone he used to work with contacted him out of the blue. He asked me how this person could have found him, and I said they probably looked him up online. He was angry that his personal information was no longer private.

Welcome to the new normal.

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at 

Habitual line-steppers

Registries invite bias against first-time offenders

By Ben Tomkins

Every time I think about the way criminal registries are implemented it makes me want to puke. Generally speaking, registries for sex, violence, and (this is laughable, Ohio) arson are intended to alert people that habitual offenders are in their area who pose a potential future threat. The key word is “habitual.” As Attorney General Mike DeWine put it: “A study done by Ohio State shows that a tiny fraction of Ohioans (0.91 percent), each with two or more felony convictions, were responsible for more than 60 percent of all violent crime in Ohio. Having a registry of violent offenders will provide Ohioans with the knowledge they need to know about who is living near them.”

Right. Fine. It seems that any thinking person would therefore not include the names of people who are first-time offenders, and yet they are exactly with whom those lists are populated. It’s enough to wonder if the web admins have to justify their budget to the Department of Transportation in order to secure next year’s funding, so they are paving their sites with mugshots. That should be enough to end the discussion, but here we are again in 2017, and the representatives of the people of Ohio are feverishly churning out legislation to create another registry—this time for violent crimes—in addition to their ever-lengthening online police lineup of sex offenders and arsonists.

This demands an answer from your attorney general: Why, then, do you want to create a registry that will include first-time offenders? Wait, sorry. What I was looking for was actually “When is your election, and what impact do you think this perversion of fact and reason will produce on that outcome?”

Did you answer “next year” and “get elected”? If you did, you get a gold star! In fact, I can already hear the stump speech: “I created the Blah Blah-de Blapity-Blif to keep the glood blurgs of Ohi-blorp safe from the scourge of blerfity-blorgs and bligety that infects our blooge-munity.”

Are we really that dumb and rube-ish? Unfortunately, it appears so. You see, one of the most backward behaviors of the homo sapien is that it tends to feel safer when a criminal is being punished, not whether or not the punishment reduces crime. There are dozens—if not hundreds—of studies demonstrating the effectiveness of registries on reducing repeat offenses, and virtually all of them say the same thing: criminal registries do not reduce recidivism. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that, if anything, stigmatization puts people in a social position where crime is their only option (it’s harder to get a job, they experience social and economic stresses from stigmatization, etc.).

Another charming aspect of the homo sapien is that it is particularly fond of the pornographic. The most common use I know of for the various state registries is for absentmindedly trolling for previous classmates and acquaintances. I have gone on sex offender registries several times in my life (I am, after all, human), and once I came across a person living in my own building complex. Knowing he had a conviction from 15 years prior for sex with a 17-year-old girl changed my opinion of him precisely zero percent. At best, it was trivial. Far more convincing that this crime should be irrationally stigmatized was the image of his face set amongst a constellation of rapists and pedophiles.

This notion of the “usual suspects” is perhaps the most disturbing part of the call for a violent crimes registry. These registries invite “hunch-based” police work, which has been profoundly and repeatedly declared unconstitutional by everyone from first-year law students to Supreme Court justices. It’s a “round them up” mentality that biases a pool of potential suspects. In the case of registries flooded with first-time offenders, it makes the job even murkier.

This fact isn’t lost on judges, either. In one study from South Carolina, typical of the results from almost all studies, “Defendants were more likely to have charges reduced from sex to nonsex crimes over time, with a 9% predicted probability of reduced charges from 1990-1994 (pre-SORN [Sex Offender Registry and Notification legislation]), a 15% predicted probability of reduced charges from 1995-1999 (corresponding with initial implementation of SORN) and a 19% predicted probability after 1999 (corresponding with implementation of Internet notification).”

So what has been the result of registration as it’s treated today? It’s become harder to identify what a habitual offender even looks like. Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars at work…

At the end of the day, I’m not saying “no” to registries, but they will never do any good until we stop lying to ourselves and to each other about what we actually want to achieve.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit Reach him at

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Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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