May 18, 2012

State not in line with federal sex offender registry law

5-18-2012 West Virginia:

West Virginia stands to lose about $60,000 in grants for not complying with a federal sex offender registration law, but authorities said compliance would actually cost the state six times that amount.

And enforcing the federal rule is unrealistic in a state where convicted sex offenders outnumber state troopers by more than 5 to 1, said J. Norbert Federspiel, director of the Division of Justice and Community Services.

Known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, the federal law requires states to use a three-tiered system to classify offenders. Those in the highest tier would be required to meet with authorities at least four times a year to verify information like their current address.

Those in lower tiers would meet with state troopers once or twice a year.

West Virginia, which is one of 35 states not complying with the law, has its own protocol for registering and tracking sex offenders. As of Monday, all but 13 of the state's 3,329 offenders were accounted for.

Under the state's current system, troopers make random, unannounced visits on offenders at least once a year.

Offenders also are required to update their information at their local State Police detachment when they move or change jobs. Troopers verify that the new information is accurate, a process that takes about two hours.

The 24 individuals considered "sexually violent predators" must update their registration every three months. They also receive more frequent visits.

Federspiel said the federal law would change the current procedure and require significantly more manpower.

For example, those who are tier three offenders are required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives and must update their registration every three months. Tier One offenders must register for 15 years and tier two offenders are required 25 years.

"It really comes down to do we want to change our law to mirror the federal law and is it worth the cost?" Federspiel said.

Federspiel said compliance with the federal law would require more offenders to update their registration more often.

"Changing from a yearly registration to quarterly would have quadrupled the amount of registration taking place," Federspiel said. "We just don't have the troopers to do that.

"We have roughly 3,000 on the registry and not nearly enough troopers."

Federspiel said the state's size and culture make it easier for troopers to track offenders.

"This is a small state where everybody knows everybody," he said. "If you register all the offenders in a county (troopers) know where they live and can be very aggressive about patrolling that area."

Federspiel said troopers do a good job of staying on top of the registry. He said the State Police's registry is effective even if the state is not compliant with federal law.

States that had failed to comply by last July stand to lose their annual Justice Assistance grants this year. Also known as JAG funding, the grants typically provide law enforcement with money for equipment, overtime and training. ..Source.. by Ashley B. Craig

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