Do registries reduce crime? Perhaps, but at what cost?
Last week a major German TV network spent a lot of time with our staff and supporters. The producer, who came with a full crew, was interested in our 11-year history of exhibiting prison art, publishing over 200 prisoner-written books, and presenting the work of imprisoned playwrights at the Kennedy Center.
But what really attracted the Germans to us at this time was our activism in winning a major court case that allows citizens to fight government registries of ex-offenders.
Government registries are something that Germany has had first-hand experience with. In the 1930s it used them to keep track of and publically shame another despised minority, Jews. Our ex-prisoner director brought this up when asked the question, "Do registries reduce crime?"
He said, "Perhaps, but at what cost? Germany during the 1930s was a very safe place to live, if you weren't a registrant. People generally obeyed the law because they were terrified of the oppressive government in place. Many prominent Americans, including aviator-turned-crime-victim Charles Lindberg, looked up to Germany for its safe streets."
Those German streets were eventually bombed and devastated when worldwide opinion rose against Germany.
Were we being unpatriotic in front of the cameras by pointing out that the US, besides having the highest incarceration rate in the world, is the only country with publically-accessible ex-offender registries? These registries at best block the path to successful re-entry and at worst lead to a death sentence of ex-offenders at the hands of vigilantes.
Maybe the US needs to be shamed before the world again as civil rights leaders did with their internationally-publicized Freedom Buses and Boycotts in the 1960s. We are now considering such initiatives, in conjunction with Women Against Registry (WAR) who recently picketed a courthouse with us.
We will let you know when the TV broadcast takes place. In the meantime, brush up on your German since all of our English-speaking interviewees will be dubbed in German before the program is aired.
source: E-mail to subscribers by Safe Streets Arts Foundation; 10 February 2014