October 9, 2013

Accounting for sex offenders should be a top Oregon priority: Editorial

10-9-2013 Oregon:

The finding by The Oregonian's Maxine Bernstein that Oregon has become a haven for sex offenders dodging stricter rules elsewhere is disturbing enough. Worse, nobody really knows the full extent of the problem, because the only accurate gauge is numeric and what's missing are those sex offenders who elect to fly below the radar. Areas with known high numbers or concentrations of sex offenders – Portland, joined by the remote and open territories of Harney and Malheur counties in the southeastern corner of the state – may host yet more offenders who simply go uncounted.

Several issues are in play but also in collision. Congress passed The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006 with the expectation that all states would expand the range of crimes for inclusion on a uniform, shared roster of registrants while requiring of offenders frequent check-ins with local authorities. But only 19 states have met the 2011 deadline for compliance. Oregon not only is not among the compliant states, but it joins Kentucky, North Dakota and New Mexico in doing the least to meet federal guidelines.

Oregon appears to be acting intentionally, if without the public declaration of New York state and others that the administrative costs of federal compliance far exceed any lost federal aid for noncompliance. The Legislature has retooled Oregon's laws pertaining to sex offender registration and, while bringing the state closer to federal compliance, still leaves Oregon at odds with sweeping mandates. This year, lawmakers passed House Bill 2549, which creates a ranking system to help focus community and police attention on predatory, high-risk offenders while establishing provisions for low-risk offenders to eventually work their way off the list. The federal law, by contrast, is broadly inclusive and keeps registrants online and facing frequent check-in requirements for longer periods of time.

Complicating the picture, too, is an elephant in the room: effectiveness of registration upon recidivism. Law enforcement officials find a valuable investigative tool in an updated sex offender list available to all – it helps to know whether a burglar picked up in Bend was previously convicted of a sex crime in Boise but had ditched post-release supervision there and was living unannounced, say, in greater Burns. But it is not clear that being registered stops the next sex crime. A General Accounting Office review this year is plain in saying that while federal laws are intended "to protect the public from sex offenders and those who offend against children," studies examining the link between sex offender registration and recidivism are few and inconclusive. An overview of such studies "found no clear effect on recidivism, for either sex offenses or other types of crime that sex offenders commit," the GAO writes. Some folks, meanwhile, have argued longterm inclusion on the registry undercuts the things that may lead to a life less inclined to recidivism – access to housing and employment, for example. ..Continued.. by The Oregonian Editorial Board

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