July 16, 2014

State Auditor says problems persist with Sex Offender Registry

7-16-2014 Vermont:

Vermont’s Sex Offender Registry is still struggling to provide accurate information through its overhauled online registry, according to an audit released Wednesday.

The Auditor’s Office found errors in 11 percent of records in the registry, or 253 of 2,340 records, according to its report.

Errors range from offenders being included in the registry when they don’t meet the criteria or being omitted when they do meet the criteria. Offenders are typically placed on the registry for 10 years or for life, and many of the errors identified were related to the length of their registration.

The audit found 71 errors in records posted to the online registry. In one case a deceased offender was still listed in the registry.

The public has an expectation that the registry contains accurate information, but inaccuracies also have serious, harmful consequences for released offenders, State Auditor Doug Hoffer said.

“We don’t have to like (sex offenders) for us to respect the fact that when they get out of jail, the statutes say that certain people are supposed to be on the registry and certain people aren’t,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to be one of the people that’s mistakenly put on this registry.”

The audit follows up on a similar audit in 2010 that identified many of the same deficiencies that still plague the system, Hoffer said.

Vermont’s Sex Offender Registry is maintained by the Vermont Criminal Information Center within the Department of Public Safety and relies on information from courts and the Department of Corrections.

Jeff Long, director of the criminal information center, said he hopes that people understand how the error rate in the auditor’s report is defined.

“A listed 11 percent error rate doesn’t mean we’re missing 11 percent of offenders,” Long said. “It means there was a data error in 11 percent of offender records.”

The definition of an error was also created by the auditor’s office for the purpose of the report, he said.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito thanked Hoffer for looking into the registry and said his department is working to help improve the system.

“I’m pleased with the progress that the DOC has made to date and the Department will work to implement the SAO’s recommendations,” Pallito said in an email.

In February 2013, Vermont transitioned its online registry to OffenderWatch, a computer program used by many states to track sex offenders, which Pallito said will “help to streamline this process with few errors.”

Hoffer acknowledged the state’s progress, but said that the improved records system is only as good as the information fed into it. The new audit also covers errors identified in the online registry as of December 2013, almost a year after the state made the switch to OffenderWatch.

The audit is a snapshot of the offender registry, Long said, and problems with the new computer system were being addressed while the report was being compiled.

The audit also showed the state is not following statutory requirements to track whether sex offenders required to be are in treatment and showed some difficulty in tracking changes in offender addresses.

Responsibility for improving the registry is spread across the criminal information center, the public safety department, the courts and corrections, Hoffer said.

He suggested those parties reconvene a working group launched after the 2010 audit was released to make sure deficiencies in the registry are resolved.

Lawmakers are expected to revisit whether the state’s online registry should make public the addresses of sex offenders in the coming legislative session – a decision that’s to be based partly on whether the information is reliable.

Hoffer declined to comment on whether he believed the state should go forward with making offender’s addresses available online, saying that’s a decision for lawmakers and the administration. ..Source.. by Morgan True

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