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States struggle to comply with sex offender database
There are about 6,000 registered sex offenders in Maryland, which officials said was not ready for the deadline.
Maryland stands to lose about $1.9 million in Byrne funding in fiscal 2011 if found in noncompliance. The state requires only those juveniles convicted as adults to register. Those tried in the juvenile court system would have to be added. Maryland has been unable to pass compliance legislation regarding juvenile registration and retroactivity issues.
“It’s not as easy as, ‘We’d like to do this, and we’re going to do it,’ ” said Dave Wolinski, of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “We’ve got people on both sides of the fence saying they have different feelings about juvenile registration and registration terms.”
Allison Turkel, policy adviser for the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office, which was created from the Walsh Act, said the law aims to classify offenders using a three-tiered system based on the severity of the offense for which they were convicted.
“[The law] sets a floor, not a ceiling, for registration,” Ms. Turkel said.
The law also strengthens child pornography protections, requires violent sex offenders to register with local authorities and increases communication among states to know when an offender moves across state lines.
However, some critics have argued the law entraps homeless offenders, who are without a permanent residency. As long as offenders provide information about where they “habitually live,” they are within the law.
As of May 29, the District had 869 registered offenders, but only 818 of those were listed online in June. The District breaks down offenders into three classes: A, B and C under the Sex Offender Registry Act of 1999, which authorizes the Metropolitan Police Department to release offender information to the public. The online list does not include class C offenders, which would change under the law.
However, Sgt. Robert Panizari, unit supervisor for the department’s Sex Offender Registry Unit, said the city is close to meeting federal law but that could change as the law adapts.
“Congress is going to go back and look at [the act],” Mr. Panizari said. “We do have some more work to do, and now we have time on that.”
Virginia had 15,893 registered sex offenders as of June 30. The state’s crime commission is studying Byrne funding and compliance to the act because of budgetary issues and anticipating implementation costs. Virginia would lose an estimated $400,000 to $600,000 in funding if found in noncompliance, based on fiscal 2009 numbers. The state has pending legislation also regarding juvenile registration and retroactivity that would make it unable to comply with federal guidelines.
Although the state has not fully complied with the act, measures have been taken to require offenders to provide information about themselves online, with increased punishments for failing to register as a class 6 felony. Much of this legislation has failed to get the support needed to pass, while others float through legislative limbo.
Dave Spencer, who was released from prison in 2004 after serving 4 1/2 years for a third-degree sexual abuse conviction in Iowa, said the federal government needs to stay out of what should be a state’s business in deciding its own sex offender laws. Under the act, Spencer is considered at least a tier 2 offender. The two-time offender could still be held accountable for his first conviction in the late 1980s because of unlimited retroactivity.
“[States] should not allow themselves to be federalized in a way that trashes the Constitution,” Spencer said. “There has to be a more realistic and productive way to solve the sex abuse problem. … The consequences for noncompliance don’t make any real sense. The feds are saying, in effect, if you don’t comply with this mandate, we are going to make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to fight crime in your state at all.”
Steve Roddel of Family Watchdog LLC said the federal government needs to do more to protect communities from sex offenders.
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