August 21, 2012

Sex offender registry needs work

Indiana is one of 35 states out of compliance with a federal law requiring the adoption of strict standards for keeping track of sex offenders.

The law passed in 2006 made it a federal crime for a registered sex offender to move to another state without registering. The law also set out uniform standards for state sex offender registries — who goes on them, how long they stay on and when, if ever, they come off.

Indiana lost $180,000 in federal funds last year because it had failed to “substantially implement” the 5-year-old law. Indiana got the money back this year, but it can be used only to bring the state in line with federal standards.

That would mean broadening the definition of sex offenses and raising from 10 to 15 the minimum number of years a sex offender would have to stay on the state’s registry. The state would also have to give up some discretion in how it handles juvenile sex offenders.

Those issues will be on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee.

The committee will also address questions about the accuracy of the state’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry.

The law passed in 1994 required sex offenders to register even if their crimes were committed before the law went into effect, but three years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of a sex offender who argued that he shouldn’t be required to be part of a registry that didn’t exist when he was convicted.

The ruling has been interpreted differently across the state. Some sheriffs have cleared their registries of offenders whose convictions came before the law was passed, but others have decided those offenders will need to get a court order to be removed.

Still, offenders whose convictions predate the registry are no longer required to report where they live, so even though their addresses might remain on the registry there’s no indication whether they live still there — or whether someone else now lives at that address.

That’s an issue lawmakers almost certainly ought to address.

The law can be a valuable tool, helping individuals to be aware of sexual predators and violent offenders in their midst, but it’s clear the law needs work. If the registry is to be truly effective, lawmakers have some important work ahead of them.

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