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July 18, 2016

Detailing the steady growth in registered sex offenders in Texas

Web-071716-AUS-sex-offender-REGISTEREDLast week, the Austin American-Statesman had this lengthy and effective article highlighting the history and modern realities of the sex offender registry in Texas. The piece is headlined "Program to corral ballooning sex offender registry failing," and here are excerpts:

Texas started its sex offender registry 20 years ago as a way for the public and police to monitor a group of criminals believed to be virtually incapable of rehabilitation and thus likely to commit additional sex crimes. Since then, however, many studies have concluded that it is uncommon for sex offenders — particularly those who ... are designated as low-risk — to commit new offenses.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 90 percent of the state’s registered sex offenders are not considered to be at high risk of re-offending.

Yet the registry is like a cemetery: Because many offenders are placed on it for a lifetime, or at least decades, it only expands in size. Over the past five years, Texas has added new names to the list at a rate of nearly a dozen every day.

In 2011, Texas began a so-called deregistration process. The intent was to remove those who were unlikely to re-offend from the list and, in so doing, save taxpayers money. By focusing police attention on truly dangerous offenders, it would also improve public safety.

By that measure, however, the program has been a bust. In the 5 1/2 years it has been in existence, only 58 sex offenders have been permitted to deregister from the Texas list — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the current registry....

[T]he calculated risk offenders pose to the public typically has little to do with their appearance on the registry. While a handful of states meaningfully separate low- from high-risk offenders — Massachusetts excludes its lowest-risk offenders from the public list — many, like Texas, do not.

So-called Romeo offenders, convicted of sex with an underage girlfriend or boyfriend, exist side by side with rapists. There is no consideration as to whether a molestation occurred within a family — and thus, experts say, is statistically unlikely to reoccur outside it — or was committed by a predator snatching an unknown child off the street.

Surveys show the public believes public registries make neighborhoods safer, because sex criminals demand the extraordinary supervision and exposure. Yet research also indicates residents rarely consult the public lists.

And while some criminologists still suggest the registries improve crime rates, a growing number of studies have concluded they have had no meaningful impact on sex offenses by predicting or preventing them. “The abundance of evidence does not point to the effectiveness of registration systems in reliably classifying offenders, reducing recidivism, or preventing sex crimes,” Jill Levenson, a national expert in registry studies, concluded in a research roundup published earlier this year.

Practitioners say an offender’s appearance on the list can even have the opposite of its intended effect. Employment and housing restrictions that accompany registration — most state-regulated occupations in Texas prohibit sex offenders from holding licenses, and at least 86 cities limit where offenders can live — can drive registrants back into illegal behavior, said Pierce, who has worked with sex offenders for more than two decades.

Despite their low utility, the registries continue to balloon in size. As of June 1, Texas’ stood at 87,686 — 35 percent higher than five years ago. Maintaining the growing lists is increasingly expensive. In 2006, the Texas Department of Public Safety assigned 10 staffers and spent $343,000 to manage the registry. By last year, it required 21 employees and nearly four times the money.

Local law enforcement agencies, where offenders must periodically check in, bear the bulk of the costs. The Houston Police Department, which monitors more than 5,000 registered sex offenders, employs 14 people — 10 of them officers — who do nothing else.

July 18, 2016 at 05:19 PM | Permalink


In order to become a civilized society and maintain civility, public safety,and order a society should, and must become educated in the many causes of societal problems as well as possible effective solutions to societal problems. No societies, governments can achieve public safety and justice for all it citizens without good research, and governmental authorities willingness to heed to the research, and yes, the statistics that accompany the research. Without research, or ignoring research a society falls into a slippery slope of ignorance and fear.

Posted by: tommyc | Jul 18, 2016 10:58:58 PM

Law enforcement needs to wake up to the fact that these registries, instead of serving the law-abiding public, from potential victimization by current or former sex predators actually puts police/parole officers, prosecutors, judges, and testifiers at extra needless risk to their own safety.

We have just seen how bitterness at a history of racist behavior by police has now made many police (good cops as well as bad ones) the targets of deranged assassins. How long will it be before embittered former sex offenders take a page out of the Dallas and Baton Rouge cop-killers by "getting even" with sex offender registration, residential restriction, job restriction, park restriction, and civil commitment laws. Frankly, it is a wonder that former sex offenders in Miami, FL, who must reside under a freeway bridge have not yet banded together like the former Black Panthers to arm and organize themselves into a militant self-defense group to both ward off vigilantes or to target law enforcement personnel for revenge murders?

I think some individual police officers DO realize the dangerous potential that Megan's Law-type legislation has against those police who have the thankless job of enforcing compliance with registration laws in isolated, deserted, parts of town where anything dangerous can happen. It's just like the situation where a police officer must approach what seems like an abandoned vehicle on the curb side with extreme caution.

Enforcing useless registration laws merely makes the police officer's already dangerous job still more dangerous than it has to be.

Rather, it is the politicians and prosecutors that need more convincing than police do about the needless dangers posed by such sex offender laws.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 19, 2016 9:31:29 AM

Is it really local law enforcement who bear the bulk of the cost for the registry, or is it the registrants themselves?
As I understand it there are fees on top of fees on top of more fees that registrants are required to pay, in most cases for the lifetime they are on the registry.
They can't find housing, can't find jobs, their families are torn apart but they still have to pay registrant fees for the priviledge of being on the punitive registry. Ridiculous.

Posted by: kat | Jul 19, 2016 11:19:09 AM

What happens if a group of them organizes to form a payment "strike" where most or all former sex offenders outright refuse to pay up for an indefinite period? They would force the authorities to either fill the jails with them and empty out the cells of other types of offenders; or, the number of disobedient former sex offenders would make the laws as unenforceable as Prohibition.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 19, 2016 4:46:09 PM

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