Ten years ago, Jeffrey Roy shared a bottle of vodka and played video games with a fourteen-year-old girl in his basement. The two engaged in sexual activity. When her father’s concern for her whereabouts led him to the home, she told him and the police she had no memory of the incident.
Jeffrey was sixteen. He was sentenced to five years, most suspended, and put on probation and the sex offender registry for ten years.
The first few years of his probation, with its stringent sex offender restrictions, were difficult for Jeffrey. But he got it together and did what we hope for every teenager: He grew up.
According to all sources, he made a remarkable rehabilitation, earning him the approval of his community, peers and elders. For the past few years, Jeffrey has run with his father, Jim, in the Tarzan Brown Race sponsored by the YMCA in Mystic, Conn.
This year, when Jim went to register, Jeffrey’s registration was rejected. He was flagged for being on the state’s sex offender registry.
Many in the community appealed to the YMCA, citing his reputation as a young man who made a stupid mistake, paid the penalty, learned his lesson and turned his life around.
One of the other runners reviewed YMCA policy and pointed out that the language allows discretion in the matter. The CEO and executive director of the foundation, which manages 40 races a year including this one, said she had never heard of a runner being banned from a race for being a registered sex offender. Beth Schluger of the Hartford Marathon Foundation said her organization doesn’t even screen runners for being on the registry.
The Ocean Community YMCA, however, citing safety as a primary concern, held firm. When the race was run Nov. 6, neither Jeffrey nor Jim, who has been a participant in nearly all of the 40 previous Tarzan Brown races, were among the runners.
Why was this decision made? Was there any actual fear that Jeffrey’s presence created an element of risk or danger to anyone? The other runners? The observers? The YMCA officials?
If rehabilitation and re-entering society as a law-abiding citizen after punishment for a crime is the objective, Jeffrey could well be the poster boy. What message does his rejection send to those who commit crimes, serve their punishment and then become law-abiding citizens?
Do we let them know we appreciate they’ve turned their lives around? Do we show our pride in them for overcoming their earlier faults and choosing to go forward as contributing participants of community and society?
Or do we slap them down, giving them no incentive for being rehabilitated? Do we tell them, by our words, actions and judgment that they might as well remain hoodlums, criminals and sex offenders because they will never be forgiven?
It’s easy to blame the YMCA, and they should be doing some soul-searching for this arbitrary decision, as well as some contemplation of the word “Christian” in their name. Jeffrey ran in their race and in others for several years with no negative consequences to anyone. There was no reason to deny him admission this year.
The true culprit, however, is the publicized sex offender registry. With no empirical evidence showing public notification of any safety benefit to society, it serves one purpose: To impede the law-abiding registered citizen from moving forward with his life. It allows entities such as the YMCA to exclude those for whom there is no reason to exclude.
It serves only to tell those like Jeffrey that no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. It removes the goal of rehabilitation from the justice system, leaving its only goal punishment.
The loss is to communities and society at-large. The loss is that of young men like Jeffrey who, rather than being welcomed as participating citizens, are treated as pariahs and told in no uncertain terms that they are not allowed among us.