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OK Sex Offenders Decry Classification System

April 5, 2009

newsok.com : Oklahoma sex offenders decry classification system.

The number of Oklahoma sex offenders saddled with lifetime registration has doubled since 2007, when state officials implemented a classification system to come into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, which increased the federal government’s role in dealing with convicted sex offenders.

Some local attorneys say it has resulted in harsher treatment of such offenders. “These people are living just in absolute terror,” attorney Mark Bailey said. “The rules have been changed on them.”

Bailey said he has been approached by a number of people with sex-related convictions in their distant past who recently have been notified they must register with authorities, most for the rest of their lives.
He said the stigma of being branded sex offenders keeps people from speaking out about the recently enacted registration requirements.

William Farmer isn’t so shy. He condemned the restrictions that have hampered one of his relatives for a decade, since he was convicted of indecent exposure in 1999. Farmer said the man was drunk when he urinated on the side of his truck in the view of two women, but that shouldn’t brand him a sex offender. “He is not a danger to society,” he said.

The Choctaw resident complained the state is not doing enough to differentiate between dangerous sex offenders and people who made a stupid mistake. “They’re lumping them all in the same basket,” he said.

Lifetime registration

The law that went into effect in November 2007 requires authorities to evaluate everyone convicted of a sex offense since 1989, assigning each one a tier in the new classification system. Tier 1 offenders must register for 15 years; tier 2 for 25 years and tier 3 for life. Most of the state’s 6,000-plus convicted sex offenders fall into the latter category, state Corrections Department officials said.

Sex offenders considered aggravated or habitual were subject to lifetime registration before the tier system was enacted, said Jim Rabon, who oversees the sex offender registration program. Those offenders used to make up about 40 percent, he said. Now more than 80 percent are subject to lifetime registration.

Bailey said there should be more tiers to encompass the range of people who committed crimes classified as sex offenses. Many are not sexually dangerous, he insists, but guilty only of bad behavior. He said the assessment is based on the charge of conviction, not the circumstances that led to it. It doesn’t consider how likely someone is to commit further sex crimes. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” he said.

Oklahoma’s classification guidelines (before Adam Walsh Act) were created by a committee that included prosecutors, counselors and victim advocates. Tulsa counselor Randy Lopp said the state’s assessment tool meets the requirements of the Walsh Act, but he acknowledged it is not the best way to classify sex offenders.

Lopp, who is head of the Oklahoma Coalition for Sex Offender Management, said offenders should be classified according to their risk level rather than their offense of record.

“This belief is based on accepted research in the field that indicates (75) percent of sexual offenders are not re-arrested over a 15-year period,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Oklahoman.

Richard Kishur, an Oklahoma City counselor who specializes in treating sex offenders, said ideally sex offenders should be evaluated before they are sentenced, to determine if they are a risk to re-offend.

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