"Liberty and justice for all - and yes, that includes sex offenders"
SUNY's decision to disseminate student's information destroys opportunity for normalcy, rehabilitation
As thousands of students poured through the Spine and milled about the Student Union on the first day of classes, phones and computers all over campus buzzed and beeped, announcing an incoming email that would set one of their classmates apart.
When SUNY recommended to UB students be contacted directly about the presence of a Level 2 sex offender on campus, it singlehandedly brought an end to the short-lived possibility that Daniel Lampke could experience a normal school year.
Students, instructors and even alumni still using their “buffalo.edu” email addresses received the UB Alert, which included a link to Lampke’s profile on the statewide Registry of Sex Offenders. The page included Lampke’s name, description, address and photo, ensuring that heads will turn and stares will follow everywhere Lampke goes.
To be clear, UB simply followed the legal advice offered by SUNY’s Office of General Counsel. Their actions and SUNY’s recommendation were not in violation of any law, but instead reflect an extreme interpretation of an amendment to Megan’s Law, which requires that information about registered sex offenders be made available to the campus community.
That the information about Lampke’s status be made available is certainly not problematic, even though University Police do not consider Lampke to be a threat.
Members of this campus community who have concerns about sex offenders – parent of children, for example – have every right to find out if there is a potential predator in the area. But Lampke’s crime does not deny him of his own rights and the direct nature of the UB Alert impinges on them.
So even though legally, they’re in the clear, ethically, the issue becomes far murkier.
It’s all too easy to hear “sex offender” and fly into full-fledged vigilante justice mode, to put on blinders and think only of the victims: The vulnerable children, the victimized men and women, the innocence lost and the pain suffered. Sexual offenses of any sort are not just criminal, but deeply taboo. As a result, the welfare and rights of sexual offenders are all too easy, and even satisfying, to ignore.
To be honest, had this student committed a sexual crime that had involved force or violence, the moral high ground on which this argument is posed would quickly crumble.
But Lampke was convicted of attempting to possess materials of a sexual performance by a child under the age of 16. He was charged with a misdemeanor and will serve six years of probation.
And now, thanks to the campus-wide email, he will serve time here at UB as well. He’s been named and branded, stigmatized as an outcast and a deviant and denied the opportunity to develop an identity beyond the crime he tried to commit.
Without a doubt, Lampke committed a crime and deserves to be penalized and pay his debt to society. It’s a necessary practicality he be monitored in case he strays into illegal behavior again.
But an effective system of criminal justice works to create an environment in which offenders don’t repeat their offense, not just out of fear of retribution but due to legitimate rehabilitation.
How can Lampke learn to function as a normal member of society when society has labeled him for all to see as not just abnormal, but amoral as well?