Constitutionality Of Tennessee Sex Offender Registry Questioned

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

Legislators met on Wednesday to take a close look at Tennessee’s sex offender registry after nearly thirty lawsuits were brought against the system.

The 12-member joint committee met in an attempt to find a way to work out the legal issues with the registry while still maintaining the majority of the system’s intentions. Lawmakers fear that the system may be deemed unconstitutional on the grounds that it is too punitive.

Senator Mike Bell of Riceville is the co-chair for the joint committee. He explained why an update to the system may be necessary.

“What we don’t want in Tennessee is for our registry to be struck down and we wake up tomorrow morning, and there are roughly 20,000 current sex offenders on that registry we’ve got no good way to keep up (with),” Bell said.

The sex offender registry in Tennessee originally started in 1994 as a confidential listing for use by law enforcement officials. It has been revamped over time and is now a public database that with a growing list of restrictions on where those on the list can reside, work, and travel.

Previous lawsuits have challenged the restrictions brought about by being on the registry. In April, a federal judge ruled that two specific men should be removed from the list, saying that changes to the registry after the mens’ convictions were causing them to be punished unconstitutionally.

With the onslaught of additional lawsuits, legislators worry that Tennessee’s system may not pass the test of constitutionality.

The number of offenders on the registry has grown exponentially over the last ten years. In 2011, there were approximately 14,000 registered sex offenders on the list. Currently, the list has nearly 26,000 names.

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Some argue that the sex offender registry unfairly makes it difficult for individuals to rehabilitate properly. One reason given for that is the difficulty those people face when it comes to finding jobs and housing.

Susan Siedentop, chair of the Sex Offender Treatment Board within the Tennessee Department of Corrections, notes that many of these offenders are forced to move outside of metropolitan areas.

“Key challenges include finding appropriate housing and employment, particularly in larger communities where residence and work restrictions are more pronounced due to the large number of schools and daycares in those areas,” Siedentop said. 


Ryan Davis, an attorney with the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, agrees that the current system creates “unintended consequences” for those offenders without actually providing additional safety for communities.

“Despite the best of intentions, registry laws like Tennessee’s not only are ineffective at reducing recidivism, but these laws actually make our communities less safe. They are counter-productive,” Davis said.

He also believes that including restrictions such as saying that offenders cannot stand near schools or parks is based on “the myths of stranger danger” and is unfair to offenders who are making an attempt to rehabilitate.

Bell noted in the legislative session that he fears that the legal challenges to Tennessee’s system may result in the current law being struck down. He believes that it is necessary for them to consider revamping the registry.

Other legislators agree that changes need to be made but voiced the opinion that those changes should not weaken the way offenders are handled.

House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Michael Curcio stated, “Nobody is saying that we need to be soft on sex offenders. What we are saying is what we are doing is not workable. We need to fix that.”


About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at

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