Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sex-offender registry gets it wrong (Who saw that coming?)

Earlier this year, the Office of the Inspector general at the U.S. Department of Justice warned that the oh-so-popular sex offender lists maintained around the country, intended to track the predators among us who specialize in sexual crimes "are inaccurate and incomplete." The report caused a bit of a buzz at the time, then disappeared. Maybe it's worth resurrecting that document, if only to reflect on the plight of Ilinois's Scott Ibarra, who somehow was wrongly branded as a sex offender by the state, placed there by ... well, nobody will admit to the act.

Sex offender registries are a big deal these days. Many people regularly check the lists when assessing potential new neighborhoods, acquaintances and co-workers. The lists are mandated by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which required that all states, territories and tribes have them in place by this past July 27.

The registries have been dogged by controversy, especially as the number of offenses that can land offenders on them has grown to include consensual offenses like intercourse between teenage couples whose ages happen to straddle the legal line for consent, and "sexting" -- the sharing of provocative self-portraits that has become popular in certain hormonally charged, underage circles.

But Scott Ibarra's case highlights another risk: that the sex offender lists are as flawed and inaccurate as everything else maintained by government agencies, to the point that they include the names of innocent people.

According to the Joliet Herald News:
Ibarra's name, the address of his Joliet home and his physical description were placed in the state's sex offender registry under a charge of aggravated criminal sexual assault for a month and 10 days in 2008.
Ibarra was clued in only because a police officer friend clued him in. He was also able to get a state legislator to intervene on his behalf when seeking an explanation for the listing -- an explanation that still remains vague at best, but seems to involve a former police lieutenant who may have been performing a service for Ibarra's ex-wife. But that retired officer insists he only made an inquiry -- he never actually submitted Ibarra's name for inclusion in the registry.

The issue is somewhat clouded by the fact that Ibarra had been convicted of rape by the Navy in 1997, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. Legally, he was and is an innocent man, and ineligible for listing as a sex offender.

Maybe that's just a screw-up -- catching the initial conviction, but not the final clearing of Ibarra's record. But it's a dangerous mistake considering the limitations inclusion on the list places on people's employment, where they are allowed to live, and the necessity of reporting to local authorities. Being improperly listed as a sex offender can very easily result in losing jobs, losing homes and being arrested -- and places a person under a permanent cloud of suspicion.

Earlier this year, that Inspector General's report cautioned, "neither law enforcement officials nor the public can rely on the registries for identifying registered sex offenders, particularly those who are fugitives." It turns out that we may not be able to even assume that everybody on the registries actually committed the crimes for which they've been included.


Blogger Letsgetreal said...

NEW STUDY: AWA (SORNA) Tier II & Tier III are less dangerous than Tier I

I just got word about the publication of the following article
co-authored by two ATSA members, Naomi Freeman and Jeff Sandler. I
think it might be of interest to those of you following
developments around the Adam Walsh Act's Sex Offender Registration
and Notification Act (SORNA). It provides an excellent policy analysis.
Here's the citation:

Freeman, Naomi J. and Sadler, Jeffrey C. (2009). The Adam Walsh Act:
A False Sense of Security or an Effective Public Policy? Criminal
Justice Policy Review, Online First. Sage

here's the abstract for the article: "With the enactment of the Adam Walsh Child Protection
and Safety Act (AWA), states are required to standardize their registration and
community notification practices by categorizing sex offenders into
three-tier levels in the interest of increasing public
safety. No empirical research, however, has investigated whether implementation
of the AWA is likely to increase public safety. Using a sample of registered sex offenders in New York State, the current study examined the effectiveness of the Adam Walsh-tier system to classify offenders by likelihood of recidivism. Results
indicated that the AWA falls short of increasing public safety. In fact, registered sex
offenders classified by AWA as Tier 1 (lowest risk) were rearrested for both nonsexual and sexual offenses more than sex offenders in Tier 2 (moderate risk) or Tier 3 (highest risk)."


Alisa Klein, MAIPS
Public Policy Consultant
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
18 Chestnut Avenue
Leeds, MA 01053

Worth noting from the Conclusion: The idea behind the enactment of the AWA, to standardize registration and notification procedures nationwide, appeared to address limitations of the current system. In reality, however, the three-tiered system, as outlined in SORNA, fails to increase the effectiveness of current registration and community notification practices. In fact, as indicated by the results of the current study, the system proposed in SORNA actually decreases the ability of states to predict which sex offenders will sexually reoffend and which ones will not.

More specifically, the use of almost any empirically based risk factor would yield more accurate predictions than the SORNA tier level, which is based solely on crime of conviction. Although no risk prediction system can accurately predict sexual recidivism 100% of the time, the results of the current study indicate that SORNA is almost completely ineffective at categorizing sex offenders based on risk of sexual recidivism. As such, it appears enactment of the AWA (and, therefore, SORNA) would not only cost states more money than they would lose if they were not to enact it, but also that such enactment would unlikely increase public safety.


October 30, 2009 5:22 AM  
Blogger akaGaGa said...

I think the registry is so popular because people don't want to be responsible for their own safety or that of their children. It's so much easier to let the government tell us who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Obviously, if they classify third-party voters as terrorists, they must have a handle on everybody else, too.

October 30, 2009 8:31 AM  
Anonymous TJP said...

My experience with government-mandated data collection (and correction) unfortunately compels me to believe that accuracy and timeliness are mutually exclusive. Considering that I regularly get junk mail that is completely inappropriate for my age and interests, I don't think it's any better in the private sector.

Most folks just don't seem to grasp that the purpose of these databases is not to solve problems, but to provide an unquestionable authority (in the literal sense) which may be cited by those who can't be bothered to think.

"Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?"

And this one was directed at my mother, who questioned an obvious error in her bank account, circa the dawn of the desktop computer:

"No, because the computer is never wrong."

November 1, 2009 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know the whole story.....there are procedures in the military and maybe some one should find out what type of person he was in the military. Why did they release him, instead of re-instating him. Because maybe he was a problem in there and this was their out to get rid of him. there is always more sides to the story......and you are only hearing one side.

December 1, 2009 11:45 PM  

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