Prior to 1994 only five states required convicted sex offenders to register their addresses with local law enforcement. As recognition of the severity of this problem grew, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Act, 42 U.S.C. §§14071, et seq. (“Wetterling Act”). This requires state implementation of a sex-offender registration program or a 10 percent forfeiture of federal funds for state and local law enforcement under the Byrne Grant Program of the U.S. Department of Justice. Today, all fifty states have sex offender registries.
The realization registration alone was not enough came after the tragic murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka by a released sex offender living on her street. The public outcry created a call for programs to provide the public with information regarding released sex offenders. In 1996 Congress passed a federal law mandating state community notification programs. Megan’s Law, section (e) of the Wetterling Act, requires all states to conduct community notification but does not set out specific forms and methods, other than requiring the creation of internet sites containing state sex-offender information. Beyond that requirement, states are given broad discretion in creating their own policies.
There are currently 549,038 registered sex offenders in the United States. Sex offenders pose an enormous challenge for policy makers: they evoke unparalleled fear among constituents; their offenses are associated with a great risk of psychological harm; and most of their victims are children and youth. As policy makers address the issue of sex offenders, they are confronted with some basic realities
* Most sex offenders are not in prison, and those who are tend to serve limited sentences
* Most sex offenders are largely unknown to people in the community
* Sex offenders have a high risk of re-offending
* While community supervision and oversight is widely recognized as essential, the system for providing such supervision is overwhelmed
Loopholes in Current State Programs
The increased mobility of our society has led to “lost” sex offenders, those who fail to comply with registration duties yet remain undetected due to law enforcement’s inability to track their whereabouts. A conservative estimate of the number of “lost” sex offenders is at least 100,000 nationwide. The wide disparity among the state programs in both registration and notification procedures permits sex offenders to “forum-shop,” research which states have the least stringent laws, in order to live in communities with relative anonymity.
* There is a clear need for more consistency and uniformity among state programs for sex offender registration and community notification.
* There should be more funding to assist states in maintaining and improving these programs.
* New technology should be developed for tracking offenders and improving communication between and among various agencies (law enforcement, corrections, courts and probation).