April 15, 2015

Wyoming lawmakers discuss changes to youth sex offender registry

4-15-15 Wyoming:

RIVERTON – Wyoming lawmakers are considering modifying the requirements for a child to be added to the state’s juvenile sex offender registry.

Some prosecutors are not charging children with sex crimes to protect them from being added to the registry, which they view as too harsh of a punishment for lesser offenses, said Bruce Burkland of Teton Youth and Family Services. Burkland spoke about the issue Tuesday with the Legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee at Central Wyoming College.

As a result, children are being convicted instead of battery or assault, and entering treatment programs for sexual behavior in denial about their problems. At the same time, victims are harmed when offenders are not convicted for sexual crimes, Burkland said.

“Right now, it’s one size fits all, no matter the crime – whether it’s a forcible rape or a touching crime,” said Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, a deputy attorney in Park County and a member of the Joint Judiciary Committee.

For instance, 23 adolescent boys from around the state have been referred to the Red Top Meadows Treatment Center, part of Teton Youth and Family Services, for treatment for sexual behavior since July 2011, when Wyoming’s juvenile sex offender registry began, Burkland said.

But only one was charged with a sexual offense. The rest had different charges, he said.

Wyoming began its registry to comply with a federal law. The names of juvenile sex offenders are not public, but neighbors are notified they are offenders. The time they spend on the registry varies depending on the crime, and can continue into adulthood, Krone said.

Krone asked the Legislature’s staff to draft a bill that would require the court to hold a hearing to assess a convicted juvenile’s risk of reoffending. The draft bill would create different stipulations for whether a child should be on the registry, based on whether the reoffense risk is low, moderate or high.

The bill is just in draft form, Krone said, and victim advocate and other groups need to sound off on the issue.

The federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act requires states to maintain a sex-offender registry. Wyoming currently complies with law, and legislators discussed whether a revision would change that.

If Wyoming did not comply with the law, it would risk losing a portion of a federal grant for law enforcement. In 2014, Wyoming would have lost $56,606 if it was not in compliance, Burkland said.

However, only 17 states have been in compliance. Other states were not penalized and changes to Wyoming's registry might not automatically put the state out of compliance, Burkland said.

The committee did not make any decisions about whether to sponsor a bill for the 2016 legislative session. Committee co-chairman Leland Christensen, R-Alta, encouraged lawmakers to do more research.

“Talk to your judges," he said. "Talk to your prosecutors.” ..Source.. by Laura Hancock

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