« "Executions Should Be Televised" | Main | Seeking reviews for apps/programs that help calculate federal guideline ranges »

July 31, 2011

Years later, Adam Walsh Act not a real fix for sex offender registries

As effectively reported in this lengthy CNN piece, headlined "5 years later, states struggle to comply with federal sex offender law," an attempt by Congress to bring national order to sex offender registries has not been a complete success. Here are highlights from a must-read for anyone follwing these issues:

Five years ago this week, President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act with the intention of making it the law of the land for keeping tabs on sex offenders.

Named for the 6-year-old whose slaying by a stranger galvanized child safety reforms and turned his father, John Walsh, into one of the nation's most recognizable victims' advocates, the law set forth the most comprehensive national standards to date for monitoring sex offenders in America's communities.

This week also marks a key deadline for states, tribes and U.S. territories to meet the act's requirements or face a 10% cut in federal justice assistance funding, not exactly small change in tight economic times.

As of Wednesday, the 30th anniversary of Adam Walsh's disappearance from a Florida department store, 14 states, nine tribes and the territory of Guam had "substantially implemented" what's known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, provisions of the Adam Walsh Act.  On the eve of the July 27 deadline, last-minute submissions were pouring into the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, known as the SMART office.

The law expanded the categories of crimes eligible for registration and increased the period and frequency of registration for certain adults and juveniles, effectively growing registries by as much 500% in some states. It called for jurisdictions to retroactively register some adult offenders who'd already done their time on the registry. It also called for registration of certain juveniles who'd been shielded from the registry in the past, based on the notion that confidentiality offers them a greater likelihood of rehabilitation.

The goal was to corral the information into a national public registry and FBI database. But the act is still very much a work in progress....  Many states don't want to change their laws; others believe the legislation's cost outweighs its predicted benefits, she said.  Texas has put the estimated federal funding cuts at $1.4 million, compared to a cost of $38.7 million....

Controversial legal issues like retroactive registration -- requiring an offender who was sentenced before the legislation to follow the new rules -- and juvenile registration get the most notice.  For most states, however, the biggest hurdles are implementing technology and adjusting statutes, said Linda Baldwin, director of the SMART office....

The effectiveness of registries -- for sex crimes and other offenses -- has long been a topic of debate.  Supporters ... tout their public safety benefits, while critics say they can have the unintended consequence of destabilizing sex offenders....

Some states have attempted to evaluate the benefits of SORNA. In Texas, home to more than 60,000 registered sex offenders, a 2010 report from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee concluded, "It is clear registries do not provide the public safety," noting the issue contained "gray areas."   The California Sex Offender Management Board also recommended against implementing the provisions of the Adam Walsh Act, stating, "California state law and practice related to offender risk assessment, juvenile registration and sex offender monitoring is more consistent with evidence-based practice that can demonstrate real public safety outcomes."

People on both sides of the debate agree that truly dangerous sexual predators, such as pedophiles and rapists, need to be monitored closely if they're going to be released into communities....

Laws vary from state to state, but examples of offenses under SORNA that could land someone on the registry range from sexual contact with a minor or rape of an adult, non-parental kidnapping or false imprisonment to possession or distribution of child pornography.  The so-called "Romeo and Juliet" cases, or consensual sex involving at least one person under 18, do not require registration if neither person is more than four years older than the other, but discretion lies with law enforcement and prosecutors.

Each offense is tied to a specific tier that designates whether an offender registers for 15 years (Tier I), 25 years (Tier II) or for life (Tier III).   Critics say that using offense-based registration instead of an approach based on risk-assessment -- favored by states like Texas and California -- pulls too many offenders onto the registry and overburdens law enforcement, preventing police from keeping a close eye on the worst of the worst....

Besides Ohio, states that have adopted SORNA are Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  The number of offenders on Wyoming's registry increased from 125 to 1,450 after the state moved from risk-based assessment to a tier system for registration, said Kevin R. Smith, deputy director of the state's Criminal Justice Information Services.

This front-page article in today's Columbus Dispatch, headlined "Ohio sex offender registry a mess; Supreme Court has twice ruled it unconstitutional," details many of the challenges Ohio has faced upon being the first state to adopt the registries rules of the Adam Walsh Act.

July 31, 2011 at 11:13 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Years later, Adam Walsh Act not a real fix for sex offender registries:


The POS Adam Walsh Act is the biggest example of the new Jim Crow laws that has been seen in a long time.

Are we really more intelligent than we were when we had racial discrimination laws?

Not since Bill's God (members of Congress) have consistently proved themselves to be leaders in self-interest and disinformation.

Why are we broke?

Posted by: albeed | Aug 1, 2011 12:06:43 AM

The Tier Systems will always over burden law enforcement. Risk assessment is a good possibility if it can truly predict an SO's likely hood of committing another sex crime. It's liken to a crystal ball, and they are not so accurate.

I do like the system we have had in place for over 225 years now. It's called the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights!

Considering that statistics "consistently" hold the recidivism rate of a prior convicted sex offender around 5%, I think that realistically and financially, we should consider the system of justice that has been put in place for a long time now. It's a proven system and cost's much less than John Walsh's present from Congress, the AWA.

Since we all live in reality, we should practice it more often.

Posted by: Book38 | Aug 1, 2011 12:40:47 AM

i have to laugh when they say florida adapted it as one of the first states to do so. florida exceeded it's requirments before it was ever passed...so noting to adapt. it's LIFETIME in florida for 99% of them

plus the tier lvl's are a joke! when you move 90% of the individuals into the LILFETIME lvl 3 tier with nothing but a notice with no evidence no hearing no nothing your a joke!

just look at ohio they moved 10,000 plus people into tier 3 in 1,000's and 1,000's of cases from NO REGISTRY NO NOTHING....to lifetime registration with a visit to the local police statin for rebooking. with little more than a machine generated letter that basical said youir moved TOUGH SHIT!

of course the ohio supreme court has now spoken AGAIN .....and upped it this time. NOT ONLY did they rule it was illegal after the fact....they RULED IT WAS IN FACT AS WELL AS LAW ......A PUNISHMENT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 1, 2011 1:11:54 AM

It takes attorneys with balls to change the laws. Most states don't have attorneys with enough balls and backbone to challenge state legislators like GA & OH has.

Last I knew, SORNA has yet to be funded, and with all the talk about Federal government spending, where would the $$ come from anyway?

Posted by: Huh? | Aug 3, 2011 4:27:26 PM

This act is ridiculous and does nothing to reform people convicted of these crimes. It only ruins their lives FOREVER. This act also tore apart my family's lives with its exaggerated consequences. Shame on lawmakers!!! If there is anything I can do to help repeal this law, please let me know.

Posted by: Gabe | Sep 5, 2011 1:05:13 PM

All the tier system does is ruin lives of good people. To actual read on the pamphlet handed out for the act 5+ yrs ago it states that tier 1 is just compromised of a mishmash of what wouldn't fit anywhere else. The bottom tier doesn't make any sense. Have sex with a 16yr old at 18 and be a sex offender till your 33 even if she ends up your wife. be punished for 15 yrs for streaking in college and being caught. Yup. What a waste of money. How do we petition.

Posted by: Tara | Feb 5, 2012 10:47:35 PM

I'm a registered sex offender in Texas. I was accussed by a bitter ex-wife of molesting our son. I was given a choice of imprisonment or 5 years Deferred Ajudication in 1994, I took the plea bargin. I was working as an Armed Security Officer, and Texas Occupation Codes stated conviction of a felony or Class A or B misdemeanors would revoke my license, I was not convicted on the charge. At the time sex offender registration was only for the duration of my probation 5yrs until 1999 and I still go to work security. In 1997 Texas changed it's registration and public notification laws, now I have to register once a year for life but I still got to work security. In 2007 Texas reworked the Occupation Codes. Now a felon can apply to work in security after 10 years of completing all of their requirements, Class A or B misdemeanors it's 5 years but since I have to register as a Sex Offender, I am now barred from working in an industry that I've worked at for over 30 yrs. With the Adam Walsh Act, I stand a good chance of getting off the registration rolls in 2014 as a Tier I because Texas doesn't even have a risk assessment assigned to me. Even if under Adam Walsh I get bumped up to a Tier II it's just 10 more years and I'll be 65 and can retire. If I get bumped all the way to Tier III I'm no worse off,I'm doing life now but some other unlucky joe might benefit.

Posted by: Larry Stoutsenberger | Jul 17, 2012 12:44:01 PM

Is there an actual list of people on the Walsh Act that you can search for? If so where would I be able to find it?

Posted by: Chris | Sep 3, 2012 9:15:05 AM

I am neither a professor nor a student, or a lawyer. I am however married to a man who was convicted of sexual assault after going on a date with a 29 year old woman. He was 33 at the time, had a previous record for credit card fraud, possession with intent to deliver, but absolutely had never been convicted of any sex crimes until this. He was initially charged with rape, but found guilty of sexual assault. I was not with him at the time, but I have read and re read the trial transcripts. Their was no physical evidence, no marks, no bruises, although the victim claimed she struggled with him, the transcripts are full of contradictions by the victim, my point here is this should of never been a conviction, and I believe that anyone who reads these transcripts, should they care about justice in our country will be outraged. This is a scary concept. Now today, although his conviction was in 2004, he is being forced to comply with the new Adam Walsh act, even though his victim was 29 years old!!!!!!! This is unconstitutional. The laws that applied at the time of his conviction should apply to him now. It is almost the same as initially sentencing someone to a jail term of 5 -10, they serve five years, but then years later the court decides that the jail term for that particular crime should be 10-20, is the person going to be made to go back to jail and serve more time? I feel that this Adam Walsh act places an unbearable stigma and unrealistic expectations on these individuals. I am all for violent sexual predators being subjected to this act, as they are a public safety issue. But for people like my husband, a conviction at 33 years old, based completely on the word of the victim only it is a complete violation of his civil rights. What is happening to America? It is time for change, please join my cause. Rhonda L Jennings

Posted by: Rhonda Jennings | Aug 27, 2014 10:20:57 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB