- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 29, 2004

Nine states do not make their sex offender registries readily available to the public, referring people instead to local law enforcement agencies for the information.

California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Rhode Island, Oregon and Vermont do not provide lists of their sex offenders on the Internet, unlike the other 41 states and the District.

In Vermont, police and the state’s Crime Information Center only will release relevant registry information to the public “when the requester can articulate a specific concern about their safety or the safety of their family.”

“The registry is prohibited from releasing lists of offenders in response to general questions regarding the whereabouts of sex offenders in a particular community,” the Vermont Department of Public Safety says on its “Sex Offender Registry” Web site.

Lt. Dale Rutledge, spokesman for the Oregon State Police, said: “We do not post the names of sex offenders on a Web site. If a person wants to know if his neighbor is a sex offender, we will tell him. But we will not provide a list of sex offenders in anyone’s ZIP code.”

Massachusetts officials are involved in a legal battle that would allow them to post the names of 805 “high-risk dangerous sex offenders” on the Internet. A court ruling last May prohibited them from doing so, and the case will be argued again March 9.

The unavailability of online sex offender registries in some states is one of numerous complaints that parents have about the implementation of Megan’s Law, federal legislation passed in 1996 that was designed to give the public access to the names and addresses of those convicted of serious sex offenses.

“It’s up to local law enforcement to determine how, if at all, to notify the public” about convicted sex offenders living in their midst, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He said all registered sex offenders are on Maryland’s list, and “most have photographs” attached.

An Edgewater, Md., man, who asked not to be identified, said his family just found out on the Internet that a “two-time sex offender” lives across the street.

“We found out that guy had two victims — one under 15 and the other under 13. I immediately told my next-door neighbor, who has four little kids,” the man said.

Asked if all states should have online sex offender registries, Laura Ahearn, executive director of a group called Parents for Megan’s Law, said “Absolutely. The Internet is a very valuable resource, which is barrier-free. Some people are intimidated going into a police department and asking to look at its sex offender registry.”

Ms. Ahearn said federal legislation passed in 1994 encouraged all states to establish sex offender registries. Megan’s Law, passed two years later, “encouraged states to release information” contained in those registries, she said.

“But it’s up to states to determine how much information you get,” she said. “We feel the law is not strong enough because minimal federal standards were set for compliance.”

A 2003 study conducted by Parents for Megan’s Law said 50 states reported a total of 461,000 registered sex offenders. The law requires that offenders register with police when they leave prison and that they notify police when they change address.

But the study found that 24 percent of released sex offenders were not complying with registration requirements. A total of 32 states admitted to having lost track of 77,000 ex-cons.

In Michigan this week, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2002 lower court ruling that found the Michigan sex offender registry unconstitutional, because it supposedly stigmatized an individual on the list, who contends he is not a threat to the public.

The federal appeals court upheld the Michigan registry, noting that it merely gives names and addresses of all those convicted of sex offenses and makes no reference to whether they are dangerous.

Charlotte Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police, which runs the state’s sex offender registry, said the list does not classify those on it according to the perceived public danger they pose.

“That’s because you can’t predict future sexual behavior,” she said in a telephone interview.

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