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An In-depth Look at Sex Offender Registries JCW frequently receives questions about Sex Offender Registries in the United States. Specifically, people wonder how someone could be removed from the registry, or why they are still on the Wall of Shame after being removed from the registry. This summary outlines some of the laws and background behind registries, and the parameters as they […]

An In-depth Look at Sex Offender Registries

JCW frequently receives questions about Sex Offender Registries in the United States. Specifically, people wonder how someone could be removed from the registry, or why they are still on the Wall of Shame after being removed from the registry.

This summary outlines some of the laws and background behind registries, and the parameters as they apply to many states.

By Eric Aiken, JCW Investigations Associate.

Over the last few decades, Congress passed several different sets of child protection laws, culminating in the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The Act establishes the National Sex Offender Registry which is managed by the Department of Justice. The intent of Congress was to create a free, publicly available nationwide database of child sex offenders so that parents, employers and those responsible for the safety of children can be aware of the identity of these convicted criminals.

Failure of the states to comply with the Adam Walsh Act

The source of information for this database was supposed to be the states, whose child sex offender data Congress required to be shared with the national database. Unfortunately, twelve years after the Adam Walsh Act was passed, 32 states and the District of Columbia still refuse to comply with the Act and intentionally withhold from the national registry the identities of approximately 170,000 registered sex offenders.

Every state has its own public sex offender registry, but each state makes up its own rules as to which convicted child sex offenders they will publicly post and which ones they will conceal from the public. The national registry is only as good as the information that it receives from the states, which is wholly inadequate and incomplete.

California has the largest number of registered sex offenders in the U.S. with approximately 120,000 but it only publicly posts 90,000 of them. 15,000 California sex offenders are labeled as missing meaning that California doesn’t even know where they are. Nationally, there are approximately 30,000 convicted sex offenders whose whereabouts are unknown to the states that convicted them or to law enforcement.

New York has 40,000 registered sex offenders but only publicly posts 24,000 of them. New Jersey has 15,000 registered sex offenders and publicly posts only 3,000 of them.

One of the worst states for reporting is Minnesota. It only publicly posts 3% of its registered sex offenders because Minnesota doesn’t publicly identify an offender unless they are in violation of their probation requirements. An offender in Minnesota can abuse as many children as he wants and as long as he complies with his probation requirements, his identity will be concealed from the public. And when he moves to another state, as many molesters do, no one outside of law enforcement will be able to find any record of his history of abuse. Not on Minnesota’s registry and not on the national registry because Minnesota won’t report him as Federal law requires.

The 32 states that refuse to comply with the Adam Walsh Act believe that tens of thousands of convicted child molesters from their states should not be publicly identified. They believe that certain groups of convicted child sex offenders can be safe around kids and therefore the public has no right to know who they are. This is contrary to medical research that shows that adult child molesters cannot be cured of their desire to sexually abuse children and are not safe around children.

In a study commissioned by the Department of Justice, an overwhelming majority of survey respondents said that they wanted to know the identities of all child molesters, not just selected ones. Most states end up defying the will of their citizens by intentionally concealing from the public the identities of large numbers of convicted child rapists and sex offenders.

There is a movement today to actually loosen or eliminate the registration and reporting requirements for convicted sex offenders. Legislation was recently enacted in California in 2017 that will significantly reduce the number of sex offenders required to register in the next few years by tens of thousands of individuals.

This legislation was actually supported by law enforcement because they have to monitor every registered offender, which imposes a huge burden on them. The rationale for their support of the legislation is that many offenders have been convicted of minor offenses and law enforcement would much rather concentrate their limited tracking efforts on only the most dangerous individuals.

Unfortunately, although this policy position benefits law enforcement, it makes it more difficult for parents and employers to identify convicted child sex predators who may be a danger to the children in their care. Although it’s true that many child sex predators have been convicted of relatively minor offenses, that doesn’t necessarily reflect the seriousness of the crimes that they actually committed. Many cases are pleaded down from felonies or multiple offenses to misdemeanors or single offenses and so these predators can still be very dangerous threats to children, despite the minor crimes for which some of them have been convicted.

Since there is no functional, comprehensive public sex offender registry, employers who want to know if a job applicant has been convicted of a child sex crime must pay a private investigation company for that information. But before the employer can even pay for the information, they must first have written consent from the applicant to do a criminal record search. Only if the applicant gives written permission can the employer then pay the third-party investigator to do a search.

Even then, many criminal sex offender records cannot be accessed by anyone outside of law enforcement because frequently these cases are either sealed by a judge or expunged.

This is not what Congress intended with the Adam Walsh Act. The national database was intended to be free to the public and not require anyone’s written permission to run a child sex offender background check.

In the United States as of 2016, there were 860,000 registered sex offenders. Approximately 120,000 of them are incarcerated at any given time, meaning that there are roughly 740,000 registered sex offenders spread throughout our cities, towns and communities. The only way for parents and those responsible for the welfare of children to protect them from child sex predators is to know who these predators are.

A partial public listing that omits 170,000 registered sex offenders is of little benefit to anyone. Especially if an individual is searched and not found in the registry, most parents or employers would naturally assume that the individual was safe around children when they’re not.

Ironically, a complete database of all registered sex offenders already exists – with the FBI. However, this database is only available to law enforcement. The public is not allowed to have access to this critical child sex offender information. Congress can, but doesn’t, bypass the states’ refusal to identify convicted child sex predators by simply mandating that the FBI turn over its database to the National Sex Offender Registry. Both agencies are part of the Department of Justice.

Risk assessments

Many states and the national registry use a 3-tier risk assessment to categorize convicted child sex offenders. A Tier-1 offender is considered the least likely to re-offend, Tier-2 is considered to have a moderate likelihood of re-offending and a Tier-3 is the most likely to reoffend.

The national tiering standard and of that used by some states is based upon the offense for which the offender was convicted. The more serious the conviction, the higher up he is placed in the risk tier.

Unfortunately, this standard is in no way predictive of whether the convicted molester will be safe around children. As discussed earlier, many child sex offenses are plea-bargained down from major offenses or felonies that could have resulted in decades of jail time or even lifetime incarceration to minor offenses or misdemeanors that allow the predator to get probation or only a short jail sentence. The sentence received is not remotely related to the seriousness of the crimes committed or the likelihood that the offender will reoffend.

Most states, however, use a different risk assessment standard based on a test called the Static-99. The Static-99 is so astonishingly flawed that it’s a wonder than anyone would even consider using it to determine whether a convicted child sex offender is safe around children.

It is a brief, 10-question survey that doesn’t even require the offender or anyone familiar with the offender to be interviewed in order to determine the offender’s risk level. Even worse, the Static-99 allows the offender to self-report critical pieces of information about himself that determines what risk tier he will be placed in. Any offender can simply lie to get himself placed in the lowest-risk tier. Third-party verification of an offender’s statements is not a requirement of the Static-99

Further, the Static-99 cannot be used for women, minors or anyone charged with a child pornography offense. The authors of the Static-99 admit that the test doesn’t address all relevant risk factors for sexual offenders. They also admit that their test does not predict the likelihood that a specific offender will reoffend, just that he might belong to a broad group of offenders that may or may not reoffend as much as other broad groups.

In other words, the test results do not predict whether a convicted sex offender is safe around children. Yet this is the standard that most states use in determining whether parents or employers have a right to know the identities of the convicted child sex predators in their states and communities.

Numerous studies including those from the Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic and a researcher at George Washington University report that child sex predators cannot be cured of their desire to sexually abuse children. From a child safety point-of-view, it makes no difference what tier a convicted child sex offender is put in, they are not safe around children. There shouldn’t even be a tiering system as it can only be used to mislead people into thinking that a convicted child molester might be safe around children when he probably isn’t.

No monitoring of released child molesters

You might think that although most states cover up the identities of their convicted child sex predators, at least the states would closely monitor these criminals upon release into our communities. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

California is an excellent example of how poorly supervised released child sex predators are. It uses a 3-part “containment” model for released child sex offenders to insure the safety of children. California calls its standards “evidence-based”. However, one of the three parts of its “containment” model includes treatment, which numerous studies conclude don’t stop molesters from reoffending. A second part of the three-part model uses a polygraph, which is notoriously unreliable and easy to manipulate.

California’s “containment” model requires that convicted child sex predators stay away from risky behavior of their own volition and to self-report violations to their supervising officer.

“A treatment contract with the offender should describe the responsibility of the offender to avoid risky, aggressive or re-offending behavior and high risk situations. The treatment contract should require the offender to self-report any such behaviors to the provider and supervising officer as soon as possible.” (From the California Sex Offender Management Board website.)

Self-report? Is California serious? Perhaps California should include in their “treatment contract” a provision that the released child sex offender should also incarcerate himself if he molests another child. We could just trust him to stay in jail until he no longer is a danger to kids.

States don’t just stop their reckless endangerment of children by concealing convicted child sex predators from the public and assigning them deceptive and misleading risk tiers. Many states actually remove molesters from their sex offender registries after an arbitrary amount of time has passed, even though statistically speaking child sex predators are always a threat to children.

Convicted predators should never be removed from sex offender registries. Child sex predators can only be made safe when the predators are physically prevented from having access to our children. This occurs when either the predators are put in jail or when parents and employers know who the predators are and can make sure that these criminals do not have contact with the children in their care.

*An earlier version of this article appeared on the Protect Jewish Kids website

Posted in media, news-articles, op-eds, survivors-letters.


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