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Group: Focus Mich. Sex Offender Registry on Risk

December 15, 2009

michiganmessenger.com : Coalition: Focus Mich. sex offender registry on risk.

Lansing — About once a month, a group of Michigan citizens sit around a table in one of the state Capitol’s ornate committee rooms and plot their uphill revolt.

They probably wouldn’t describe it that way, but the members of the Coalition for a Useful Registry’s professional advisory board do acknowledge they don’t often end up on the winning side of legislative or judicial skirmishes over Michigan’s growing sex offender registry.

But at the group’s Dec. 2 meeting, with members seated around highly polished wooden tables, coalition members — including those with family on the registry — discussed rare “victories” at the legislature and state appeals court, and reviewed a looming deadline to comply with new federal mandates.

Coalition members are united in the view that Michigan has too many people on the sex offender registry who, they argue, aren’t a threat to anyone and don’t merit the stigma of extended punishment on the registry.
With over 45,100 names and faces on the registry of convicted sex offenders –- and even some whose records are conviction-free –- Michigan holds the eyebrow-raising distinction of having the highest ratio of its citizens on a state sex offender registry.

According to an analysis earlier this year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, for every 100,000 Michiganders, 472 are on the registry. That’s more than California (319), Florida (281), New York (148) or Illinois (158) – or any state.

“We’re trying to put a face on this,” said Lynn D’Orio, a defense attorney and member of the advisory board. “That’s why the coalition exists.”

Nine years ago when the coalition was formed, it was mostly driven by family members of registrants who knew first-hand the humiliation and lasting negative consequences of being on the list. “We just weren’t getting very far,” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and also a board member. “We eventually decided if we put together other professionals who could represent the same views, but back them up with their own professional credibility and their research, that we might have more of a presence.”
Today, the coalition’s professional advisory board counts social workers, juvenile case workers, attorneys and even a former prosecutor as members.

By reviewing legislation and educating state lawmakers, the board hopes to “help convince legislators that the registry needed to be, at least, reformed,” Weisberg said. “We at least need to be logical about how it’s working.”

“There’s a big interest in the registry,” Weisberg added, noting that the last forum for legislators attracted over 20 state lawmakers. “We’re very encouraged with the interest.”

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