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September 3, 2009

Might the ugly Garrido case result in needed changes to sex offender registries?

This new article in the Wall Street Journal, which is headlined "Sex-Registry Flaws Stand Out," has me wondering and hoping that the horrid Phillip Garrido case might prompt needed reforms to ever-expanding sex offender registries. Here are snippets:

The case of Phillip Garrido, who allegedly held Jaycee Dugard in his backyard for 18 years despite monthly law-enforcement visits, is forcing California officials to acknowledge a fundamental problem with the state's sex-offender registry: The list keeps expanding, while the number of officials who monitor sex offenders has grown at a much slower rate.

There are now so many people on the registry it's difficult for law enforcement to effectively track them all, and "it's more helpful for law enforcement to know...who the highest-risk offenders are," said Janet Neeley, a deputy California attorney general and member of the state's sex offender board.

A December study of roughly 20,000 registered sex offenders on parole in California found 9% posed a "high risk" of reoffending, and 29% posed a "moderate-high" to "high" risk, said Ms. Neeley. But law-enforcement officials and academics say vast resources are spent monitoring nonviolent offenders rather than keeping closer tabs on more-dangerous ones.

California's sex-offender registry has ballooned to more than 90,000 people now from about 45,000 in 1994, according to the California attorney general's office. Not only has the number of law-enforcement officers failed to keep pace, but recent state budget cuts have forced some local agencies to cut officers assigned to sex offenders, according to the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, for example, said funding cuts have forced it to field only five officers dedicated to tracking sex offenders in the county, down from eight officers five years ago.

Last year, California's Sex Offender Management Board criticized the system as it stands in a 225-page assessment, highlighting failures in the collection and analysis of data on sex offenders. It's "difficult if not impossible" to track the effectiveness of registry laws, the report said....

California has been trying to sharpen its focus, but federal and state laws passed in 2006 offer conflicting rules for monitoring sex offenders, Ms. Neeley said.

Under its law, California has chosen to use a program called Static 99, which categorizes sex offenders based on their likelihood to reoffend.... Provisions in the federal Adam Walsh Act aim to move monitoring in the opposite direction, so that it's based solely on an offender's type of conviction, not on a complex assessment of risk.

That's problematic, said Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida who studies sex-offender registries, since it "overestimates risk for most people, and underestimates risk for people who pleaded down," or struck plea deals by admitting to lower-level crimes.

Now, the state Sex Offender Management Board is recommending that California forgo some federal funds and not adopt the law, which would add to the number of crimes requiring registration. "There is no available evidence to indicate that expanding California's list of registerable crimes would promote public safety," the board wrote in a recommendation, noting the federal law would create at least $32 million in costs to the attorney general's office and law-enforcement agencies without improving the system.

September 3, 2009 at 08:36 PM | Permalink


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The idea that there is any rational basis for an assessment of "future dangerousness" is without foundation in reality. Evaluating "risk" in the sex offender population is like evaluating "odds" in your local fantasy football league. If it was a science there wouldn't be much of a competition. Risk analysis is a term that makes us feel better but doesn't do anything to promote actual security. You might as well flip a coin as to whether the conviction or some other type of method is the better method of risk determination; they all stink.

This whole mess is compounded by the lie that what is called "low risk sex offenders" is simply another way of saying "people who never should have been on the sex offender registry in the first place," such as people who peed in public.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 3, 2009 9:22:09 PM

There will be changes rest assured. More sex offender laws, and more will become even more harsh. That will be the response.

Posted by: Benoliwal | Sep 6, 2009 4:36:03 AM

I still prefer risk assessments rather than the categorical method that is employed in Title I of the Adam Walsh Act. If you want greater injustice and unfairness in the laws, then you have it with the categorical method.

Posted by: Benoliwal | Sep 6, 2009 4:40:22 AM

I recently read that in Louisiana, prostitutes who solicit for oral sex can be and are charged with an "unnatural sex act" instead of prostitution. Conviction of this charge results in being placed on a sex offender registry. In Orleans Parish, 41% of registrants are the result of this crime, leading to the belief that most of these are prostitutes. I cannot believe that in anyone's mind, this was the intent of sex offender registries. It's craziness beyond belief. I'm just an interested observer.

Posted by: Charlie O | Sep 6, 2009 11:52:52 AM

The US needs more competent parole officers who really do their job. Not someone, who doesn't do his visits and documents otherwise.

The deputy officer is another one who failed for not completing a thorough check when that 911 call was made.

USA laws need to be changed and enforced. It is a shame that the people we depend to keep us somewhat safe, fail and put everyone else at risk.

Laws can change but it is up to us as a community to make sure they are enforced.

I'm just someone surfing the net and came across your site.

Posted by: LM | Sep 18, 2009 7:34:53 AM

Psych evaluations for sex offenders will work pretty much as reliably as psych evaluations to screen police officers.

That's all I'm gonna say....

Posted by: SgtMom | Sep 21, 2009 1:13:33 PM

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