April 27, 2014

In Rhode Island, tracking juvenile sex offenders once they’re adults

4-27-2014 Rhode Island:

Over the years, hundreds of juveniles in Rhode Island, as young as 13, registered as sex offenders.

When they became adults, the onus was on them to make sure they remained registered for as long as the law required.

Some did. Some didn’t.

It was years before law enforcement realized that dozens had disappeared.

Now, the police are trying to find them.

Flagging the problem

Rhode Island has no central registry for sex offenders, including juveniles. The attorney general’s office has tried for years to get the General Assembly to pass legislation supporting a registry that would assist law enforcement in tracking and managing sex offenders.

Instead, sex offenders register where they live, work and go to school with local police. Unless they are still on probation, the police are the only ones who are keeping track of them — which can leave one officer monitoring hundreds of people in large communities.

“Everybody’s got files,” U.S. Deputy Marshal C.J. Wyant says, “but nobody knows where the information coincides.”

The issue of some juveniles not being registered when they became adults first came up soon after Wyant formed SOLEMN, Sex Offender Law Enforcement Multi-disciplinary Network, in 2007 to bring together all of those who deal with sex offenders in Rhode Island.

The network included law enforcement, probation and parole officers, state prosecutors and those who treat victims and sex offenders.

At one of their first meetings, the attorney general’s office raised the red flag: some youths found guilty of sex crimes who were required to register when they became adults, at 19, didn’t.

For unknown reasons some didn’t go through the Sex Offender Community Notification Unit that evaluates sex offenders and determines the danger they could pose to the community.

Therefore, the offenders weren’t tracked by the police, and the community wasn’t notified of the whereabouts of those most likely to re-offend.

“The way I looked at it: here’s a problem. How do we fix it? How do we go forward?” Wyant said. “For the guys that were missed, it’s such a large animal. How do you deal with it?”

Identifying the number

Before 2000, juvenile offenders had to register for 10 years. After that, they were required to register for up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the crime.

But that hasn’t happened.

In the last three years, the attorney general’s office and law enforcement have been going back through Family Court cases, looking for juveniles who were found guilty of sex crimes and ordered to register.

Special Assistant Attorney General John Moreira, chief of the juvenile prosecution unit, said they reviewed the cases for the last 15 years and found 104 former juvenile sex offenders who needed to be investigated to determine if they were registered.

Some, they found, were properly registered as sex offenders. Some had committed crimes as adults and were locked up. Some may have moved to other states, the police believe. And others hadn’t committed any new crimes, but failed to register.

How many failed to register? That number varies, as law enforcement tracks down some and gets new cases uncovered by the attorney general’s office.

To address the problem for the future, Moreira and Kevin McKenna, the associate director of juvenile corrections at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, came up with an “exit form” to explain the registration mandate to juvenile offenders when they turn 19 and end probation.

The only ones who know the registration must continue are the offender and the local police. “Is it 100 percent comfortable? No. These are young people,” McKenna said.

The task force

A packet as thick as a person’s thumb sits on a desk in the SOLEMN office at the U.S. Marshals Service office in downtown Providence.

Pulled together by the attorney general’s staff, it lists names of adults found guilty of sex crimes as juveniles. It also lists their crimes, the number of years they must register, their probation officer and the “level” that determines how likely they are to re-offend.

Most have no level, meaning they never ended up before the sex offender community notification unit, which reviews their cases.

Even though the list has home addresses, the information is often out of date. Most have “fallen off the grid,” says Officer Steve Lombardi, who tracks Warwick’s 100 registered sex offenders, and who worked on the juvenile sex offender project for SOLEMN last year.

“Some probation officers were very savvy and told them they had to register. Some sex offenders knew the obligation and were compliant,” he said. “Some of them were certainly skating this system. Some of them, I have no doubt in my mind, had no idea. It’s a mix of arrogance and ignorance.”

To Lombardi, the real story is — what happened with those who didn’t register? Who were they around? “We’ll never know. Who were they living with? Were there kids around?” ..Continued (A Massive Report).. by Amanda Milkovits

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