State and national sex offender registries

Over the last few decades, Congress has 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 publicly available nationwide database of child sex offenders so that parents, employers and those responsible for the safety of children can be aware of who these convicted criminals are.

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, ten years after the Adam Walsh Act was passed, 33 states still refuse to comply with the Act and intentionally withhold from the national registry the identities of over 100,000 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.

California has 130,000 registered sex offenders, but it only posts 83,000 of them on its public sex offender registry. New York has 40,000 registered sex offenders, but only posts 24,000 of them. The national registry is only as good as the information that it receives from the states, which is wholly inadequate and incomplete.

Minnesota, for example, doesn’t post any child sex predators unless they are in violation of their parole. 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 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 33 states that refuse to comply with the Adam Walsh Act believe that thousands of convicted child molesters from their states should not be publicly identified. They believe that certain groups of convicted child sex offenders are safe around kids and therefore the public has no need to know who they are. This is contrary to all medical research that shows that child molesters cannot be cured of their desire to sexually abuse children and are never safe around children.

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

In my efforts to track convicted child sex offenders, I would frequently run into the same problem – I couldn’t find them in either the national registry or the public registry of the state in which they were convicted. This makes it impossible for me or any parent, child advocate or employer to accurately determine if someone who has access to children has been convicted of a child sex crime.

Since there is no functional, public, national sex offender registry, employers who want to know if a job applicant has been convicted of a child sex crime must pay 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 a third-party investigator to do the search.

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, there are 650,000 registered sex offenders. Only 50,000 of them are incarcerated at any given time, meaning that there are 600,000 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 over 100,000 registered sex offenders is of little benefit to anyone.

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, by-pass 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 assessment

All 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 be a moderate likelihood of re-offending and a Tier-3 is the most likely to re-offend.

The national tiering standard and 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.

Most states, however, use a different risk assessment standard based on a test called the Static-99. Both classification systems are of little value in terms of predicting whether a convicted child sex predator who has been released or given probation is safe around children.

Numerous studies including the Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic and a researcher at George Washington University report that child molesters cannot be cured of their desire to sexually abuse children. In other words, from a child safety point-of-view, it makes no difference what tier a convicted child sex offender is put in, they are never 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.

The failed Federal tiering standard

The tiering standard used by the national registry is based upon the sentence that the molester receives. The more serious the conviction, the higher up the tier ladder he goes. This standard is in no way predictive of whether the convicted molester will be safe around children when he is released.

Many child sex offenses are plea-bargained down from major offenses that could have resulted in lifetime incarceration to minor offenses 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 re-offend.

The failed State standard – the “Standard 99”

The other standard, the Static-99 that most states use, 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 him placed in the lowest-risk tier. Third-party verification of an offender’s statements is not a requirement. 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 re-offend, just that he might belong to a broad group of offenders that may or may not re-offend as much as other broad groups.

The test results do not predict whether a convicted 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 state and communities.

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, as the state with the largest number of registered sex offenders in the country, is an excellent example of how poorly supervised released child sex predators are. It uses a 3-part “containment” model to insure the safety of children.  California unbelievably 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 re-offending. A second part of the three-part model uses a polygraph, which is notoriously unreliable and easy to manipulate. Incredibly, 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. I can’t make this stuff up.

“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?

Maybe California can 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.

Do you think your children are safe with states like California monitoring 130,000 registered sex offenders? Even if you don’t live in California, molesters are mobile and can easily move to your state and become your child’s problem.

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.

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