A white-collar offender registry? Yes, this is now a reality

Ever since the internet came into widespread use, Americans have become increasingly aware that whatever goes online tends to stay online forever. Anything from your past that made it into any sort of public record cannot be forgotten or outlived. This includes criminal convictions and even arrests based on charges that were later dropped.

But some legislators feel that certain types of criminals deserve a method of internet shaming that goes beyond the humble Google search. One state legislature recently approved the creation of a white-collar crime registry, with hopes that it will eventually spread to all other states, including California.

Although most people wouldn't make this association, Utah is allegedly a hotbed of white-collar crime, particularly financial fraud. In response to this sentiment (whether or not it is true), state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill creating a white-collar offender registry.

When the registry goes live, it will contain names, "recent pictures" and other identifying data on offenders who have been convicted of certain crimes since sometime in 2005. Included in the list of register-able offenses are money laundering, securities fraud and mortgage fraud.

States seem to have fallen in love with the idea of public crime registries. In addition to sex-offender registries, some states have adopted registries of individuals convicted of drug offenses, and bizarrely, arsonists.

In theory, the white-collar offender registry is meant to ensure that individuals can research the person they are about to do business with. At the very least, such a registry would be redundant. Any financial crime for which a person was convicted and sentenced would be easily discoverable in a Google search.

More importantly, however, crime registries often do little to keep the public safe while forever branding convicted offenders as criminals. Our justice system is predicated, at least in part, on the notion that reform is possible. If each of us is forever reduced to the sum of our criminal record, does this deter recidivism or does it simply take away the incentive to reform?

Source: The New York Times, "Utah Passes White-Collar Felon Registry," Ben Protess, March 11, 2015

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