August 13, 2013

Study: Sex offender registry might not increase public safety

8-13-2013 Nebraska:

The way Nebraska tracks sex offenders might not be protecting public safety as well as the system lawmakers abandoned in 2009, according to a study commissioned by the state Legislature.

Under the old system, only the names of sex offenders deemed by the Nebraska State Patrol as most likely to re-offend were publicized. Those who had committed minor offenses and were considered at low risk of re-offending -- known as Level 1 offenders -- were required to register with law enforcement agencies, but their information wasn't made public.

But lawmakers passed a bill to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law named for Adam Walsh, the son of “America's Most Wanted” host John Walsh, who was abducted and murdered in 1981. The new law included Level 1 offenders in the public reporting requirements, and the state posted their photos and addresses on a website.

The information stays up for as long as 25 years, and in some cases, for life.

"It appears that the Adam Walsh Act was founded more on public emotion than good science, which is its fundamental shortcoming," said the report done for the Legislature's Judiciary Committee by the University of Nebraska at Omaha Consortium for Crime and Justice Research.

"In nearly all cases, adoption of the Adam Walsh Act … results in the community being notified about more sex offenders. With the increase in cases, it becomes more difficult for citizens in the community to discern which offenders on the list are the most dangerous," it said. "If the purpose of registry and community notification laws is to promote public safety, this widening of the net of offenders placed on the public list is in direct conflict with the primary purpose of sex offender registries."

More than 4,000 registered sex offenders live in Nebraska. The report said more than 56 percent of all sex offenders assaulted someone they knew. About 34 percent assaulted a family member. Less than 17 percent assaulted a stranger.

"Consequently, if a primary purpose of sex offender notification and registries is to protect the public from strangers who are convicted sex offenders, then the current makeup of the Nebraska sex offender registry is at odds with this goal," the report said.

"Consequently, the findings … call into question the accuracy and utility of the Adam Walsh Act classification system in detecting offenders that are at a high risk to re-offend. From a public safety standpoint … research suggests that public safety has not been enhanced by the adoption of the Adam Walsh Act … system," the report said.

Brad Ashford, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said it might be time to re-examine whether the names of sex offenders who commit "minor" offenses should be made public.

He noted that the names of juvenile sex offenders, unless they are convicted as adults, are not.

"There's nothing with the current system that would prevent us from doing with other offenses -- lesser offenses, misdemeanors -- what we have done with juveniles," Ashford said. ..Source.. by Kevin O'Hanlon

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