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The Effects of Transitioning to the Adam Walsh Act’s Federally Mandated Sex Offender Classification System

April 16, 2010 Comments off

Sage Journals Online (registration required): Widening the Net – The Effects of Transitioning to the Adam Walsh Act’s Federally Mandated Sex Offender Classification System

Andrew J. Harris- University of Massachusetts Lowell, Andrew_Harris@uml.edu, Christopher Lobanov-Rostovsky- Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, Jill S. Levenson- Lynn University

With the 2006 passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA), the U.S. Congress set forth a range of minimum standards governing the operation of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) systems throughout the nation. Many of these standards are based on the AWA’s uniform system of registrant classification, which distinguishes registrants solely based on offense history and the nature of the conviction offense, without regard for additional risk factors. The current study evaluates the impact of the federal registration classification system on the distribution of individuals within state sex offender registries, specifically drawing on the experiences of Ohio and Oklahoma, two of the first states to undertake a reclassification of their registrant populations under the new federal guidelines. The findings indicate that the federal reclassification process produces a redistribution of registrants from lower SORN levels to higher ones and reveals statistically significant differences between newly reclassified “high-risk” individuals and those designated as high risk under prior registration classification systems. Findings also suggest that juveniles and those potentially subject to AWA’s retroactivity provisions may be disproportionately placed into the highest SORN tiers. Implications of these findings for practice and public policy are discussed.

Key Words: sex offenders • Adam Walsh Act • sex offender registration and notification

Weaknesses of Michigan Sex Offender Registry

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michiganmessenger.com: Arrest points to weaknesses of sex offender registry in Michigan- Legislation may fix those deficiencies later this year.

Capt. Ray Hall of the Lansing Police Department cautioned last week that the registry is not a very useful tool as currently configured. While the online list does allow civilians to see who is and is not on the list, officials say that the lack of specific information related to sex offenders and their offenses makes the list virtually useless for someone seeking to discern the truly dangerous from the rest of the bunch.

Many people on the list are there for non-predatory crimes, such as urinating in public or Romeo and Juliet relationships — those where one partner is three years older than a minor, say an 18 year old and a 15 year old. State Rep. Rebekkah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), chair of the House Judiciary Committee on the Sex Offender Registry, says grouping such people along with pedophiles and rapists what amounts to “ruining” someone’s life.

Those problems, state lawmakers tell Michigan Messenger, are the target of planned reform legislation they expect to be introduced and passed in the state legislature by the end of the year. Many of those reforms were mandated by the passage in 2006 of the Adam Walsh Act.

The state was supposed to be compliant by the end of 2008 or lose 10 percent of federal Department of Justice money to the state. State officials decided to accept that punishment last year because implementation of the requirements under the act would cost more than the state would bring in from the grants, says Warren. But the game has changed with more federal cash available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and Warren says the state can’t afford to accept reductions in federal cash.
(i.e. The Feds raised the bribe)

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the sex offender registry is broken and that changes need to be made.

“Our list is pretty expansive and I think … it’s a list that tells us who and when, not necessarily what, but it’s a list that’s more inclusive than most other states,” says Sen. Wayne Kuipers, a Republican from Holland who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We allow ourselves a better working document if we change who’s included on the list and get at the people we should be really fearful of — the predator type sex offender. If we can figure out a way to pare it down to those types of criminals I think the list will be more meaningful and people will be able to have confidence in the list.”

“The public policy purpose of this tool was to give folks some sense of who in their area, in their neighborhood, in their state were folks that were dangerous,” says Rep. Rebekkah Warren. She chairs a House Judiciary Committee dedicated to the sex offender registry and reforms. “A lot of those folks who urinated in public, or had sex with their high school girlfriend, who now have married and have children with them and have become valuable contributors to our economy and our society, those folks being on the list means that when you check the list… it’s astonishing. You pull up all these people. That’s one of the things we want to look at — who needs to be on that list.”

According to guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Justice, required reforms to the Sex Offender Registry include a three-tiered system which will more readily identify dangerous offenders, while suggested reforms include collection and publication of online identities and aliases of offenders, and the publication of information about the specifics of a crime for which an offender is listed.

Those reforms would make the list more useful, says Jackson Chief of Police Matt Heins. “I think the more information you provide to the general public, the better off the community is served by providing that information,” says Heins, whose department monitors an estimated 330 offenders. “And, of course it’s always a fine balance between an individual’s rights to privacy versus what you can make public, provide to the public regarding cases. That will always be a balancing act.”

Warren said she supports such changes. “If we’re going to give people a sentence that is really going to, in some ways, ruin their life, we need to make sure we are deliberative about that. And we need to take the time now to ask if everybody on this list belongs on the list,” Warren says. “We need to make it as useful a tool as it possibly can be and we will all be better off.”

The registry ended up listing juveniles or folks convicted of public urination crimes because of the passage of Megan’s Law. That was the first federal law mandating the development and publishing of public sex offender lists. Michigan, Warren says, had for years collected such information in a private, law enforcement-only list. After the passage of Megan’s Law, the state simply “dumped” its entire list into a public registry.

“When Megan’s law first went into effect, and states had to put that in a public way on the internet, instead of reviewing what our policies had been or looking at the list to see who should be in the public eye — so to speak — we just dumped the whole list into the public eye,” Warren says. “We have people on the registry that in many other states, and now under the Adam Walsh Act — under the federal law — would not have to register and would not have to be on the public list.”

Lansing officials say those reforms can’t come fast enough, and take issue with the legislature’s delaying the changes.

Look To Research, Not Fear Or Politics

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courant.com: All Sex Offenders Are Not Equal- State Must Look To Research, Not Fear Or Politics.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed and signed by President George W. Bush in 2006. The law attempts to expand the scope of sex offender registries at the state level as well as create a national sex offender registry. States were told to sign on or risk losing a small amount of grant money.

Last week, a bill that would have brought Connecticut in line with the Walsh Act was — wisely — allowed to die in committee.

The Walsh Act has been widely criticized on many fronts, for everything from including adolescents as young as 14 on the list to violating several provisions of the Constitution. Only one state, Ohio, has adopted it.

Laws such as the Walsh Act, often named for victims of crimes the law is trying to prevent, are of course well-intentioned. But they tend not to be based on research, and so do not achieve an optimal level of public safety. Indeed, they can unintentionally make things worse.

For example, if Connecticut officials followed the research, they would not expand the state’s sex offender registry, but reduce it.

All states have sex offender registries to which residents have online access. Some states put offenders on their registries based on their risk to the community. Connecticut is one of the states that place people on the registry because they are convicted of a sex offense.

Many people assume everyone on the registry is either a rapist or pedophile. If that were so, the list would be much smaller. But it also includes an array of porn possessors, voyeurs and people who as older teenagers had consensual sex with an underage girlfriend or boyfriend. As a result, the state now has more than 5,000 people on the sex-offender registry, an increasingly unwieldy group for hard-pressed police departments to monitor.

Some on the list are dangerous and must be watched, but many are not. As the list is now presented, it’s difficult to tell one from the other. They are listed by the crime they were convicted of committing, but it’s not clear whether a conviction for “risk of injury” or “second-degree sexual assault” means the person is a danger to others. (The registry also misses people who pleaded to a lesser offense to stay off it.)

NE: Fed Judge Refuses to Elevate Case to State High Court

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journalstar.com: US judge won’t ask Nebraska Supreme Court to review law.

Omaha — A federal judge won’t ask the Nebraska Supreme Court to review the state’s revised sex offender registry law.

In an order issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said no legal reason has been presented to justify a high court review.

The request stemmed from a federal lawsuit filed in December on behalf of 20 sex offenders, their relatives and employers. It sought to stop the law from taking effect, saying it violated federal and state constitutions.

Kopf has blocked portions of the law, including provisions that sought to monitor convicted sex offenders’ computer usage and prevent them from visiting certain Web sites. But he did leave most of the law intact, saying it came close to meeting criteria set for the state by Congress. The revised law went into effect in January.

Attorney Stu Dornan asked in a motion filed last month in U.S. District Court to have the Nebraska Supreme Court review the law for conflicts with the state constitution.

Nebraska lawmakers changed the law earlier this year, saying the revision was needed to comply with federal legislation passed in 2006. That legislation said that if Nebraska and other states don’t publicly register all people convicted of sexual offenses and make other adjustments, they could lose out on federal grant dollars for local law enforcement.

At least 30 states have passed legislation in an effort to comply with the law and many others are studying it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

FL: Bars Sex Offenders from Schools, Parks

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wesh.com: Lawmakers Pass Stricter Limits For Sex Offenders.
Offenders Cannot Wear Costumes, Be Near Schools Or Playgrounds.

Orlando, Fla. — State lawmakers have passed stricter limits on sex offenders. The Florida House voted unanimously on a bill that bars sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of schools, day care centers, parks and playgrounds.

Another provision would keep sex offenders from wearing Santa Claus suits or other costumes that attract children. It also includes a clause that would prevent the state from labeling someone who had consensual relations with a minor as a sex offender. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Once again, not only are laws banning a group of citizens from public parks unconstitutional, but these laws are inane and unenforceable. Are they going to set up check-in desks manned by police officers with registry lists at each park? Anyone who is intent on committing a sex crime in a public park will do it without regard to a new law which prohibits them from entering that park.

WI: School Grounds Sex Offender Law Passes

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channel3000.com: New Bill Targets Sex Offenders.

Madison, Wis. — The state Assembly has passed a bill requiring sex offenders to notify school districts before they come on school grounds. The measure prevents anyone on the state’s sex offender registry from being on any school property, including athletic fields, unless the school is notified.

(Keep in mind that a large number of people on registries are – or eventually become – parents of school kids)

The first failure would be a misdemeanor; subsequent offenses would be a felony. The bill would still allow offenders to vote on school grounds and attend non-school related activities on the premises.

The Republican-authored measure was passed by the Democratic-controlled Assembly on a voice vote. It now heads to the state Senate.