Lawmaker pondering sensible reform to sex offender registry

Finally some good news on the criminal justice reform front. Mike Lawlor, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, is also on the State Risk Assessment Board, which is charged with – you guessed it – assessing the risk of the state’s registered sex offenders. Lawlor wants to streamline the registry so as to provide more relevant information on those who have the highest risk of re-offending.

Lawlor sees room for improvement. He wants the Connecticut registry to attach “risk levels” to each offender to help people understand who poses a danger and who, likely, does not. It’s an idea modeled on states like Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, where “actuarial” risk assessment—a social science-based prediction method—is used to analyze a sex offender’s likelihood of re-offending, and where only those determined to have a high risk are placed on the internet. Based on the experience of the states that have done this, high risk offenders typically make up only 10 to 20 percent of the sex offender population.

In 2006, Lawlor pushed for the formation of the Risk Assessment Board, charged by the legislature with analyzing the state’s more than 4,600 registered sex offenders and stamping each as high, medium or low risk. The board is made up of high-level public officials—the commissioner of Correction, the commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the commissioner of Public Safety, the chief state’s attorney, the chief public defender, the chairperson of the Board of Pardons and Paroles—as well as a governor-appointed victim’s advocate, forensic psychiatrist, a risk assessment expert and members of the relevant legislative committees, including Lawlor.

The article actually does a good job of explaining the risk assessment methods and compares it to the traditional subjective approach employed by therapists.

Further, people may finally be catching on to the real problems of registries and the dangers it poses:

It’s counterintuitive, acknowledges the study’s author, David D’Amora, a licensed therapist who heads the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior and sits on the Risk Assessment Board. But the reason for the possible increase [in recidivism], he says, is fairly straightforward: Registered sex offenders have a harder time getting jobs and finding housing, and people without jobs or housing are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and to re-offend. When your life’s a mess, the theory goes, it’s harder to keep your behavior in check. “When you over-respond to the lowest risk people,” says D’Amora, “you end up making them more dangerous.

“With the best of intentions we are putting in place things that are decreasing the ability for people to have appropriate jobs and appropriate living,” says D’Amora, “and those are two of the things that are most important to decrease recidivism. The unintended consequence is making things more dangerous.”

Of course, there’s a long way to go and with the current political climate, who knows if this will ever come to fruition. I hope it does. If not, can they at least legislate that condoms be made available in jails?

16 thoughts on “Lawmaker pondering sensible reform to sex offender registry

  1. Ilah

    Did I miss it, or was there really no mention of AWA compliance in the article?

    Put this article next to the one from Oklahoma (indicating that AWA compliance results in classifying nearly 80% of offenders as highest risk), and it’s a basic nutshell of where the system can take a wrong (or right) turn.

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  2. Gideon Post author

    [quote comment="7673"]Did I miss it, or was there really no mention of AWA compliance in the article?

    Put this article next to the one from Oklahoma (indicating that AWA compliance results in classifying nearly 80% of offenders as highest risk), and it’s a basic nutshell of where the system can take a wrong (or right) turn.[/quote]
    You’re right. There was no mention of AWA compliance. I’m not up on the basics of that. Do all states have to comply and what are the specific requirements? Is there any leeway for state’s to enact their own tiers?

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  3. Ilah

    The best place to start is here:
    http://sexcrimes.typepad.com/sex_crimes/2007/05/adam_walsh_chil.html

    All states are supposed to comply by, I believe, 2009. Compliance would create a tier system based upon conviction alone. Tier III, for example, requires registrants to be processed in person four times a year for the rest of their lives, with no ability to appeal.

    One argument for the new federal law was the need for consistency across state lines. However, the AG then turned around and called the act “a floor, not a ceiling,” essentially letting states know they need not be consistent, so long as the inconsistency results in more regulation.

    Congress has yet to provide any funding for compliance. Non-compliance will result in the loss of 10% of a state’s JAG funds. Most states have recently figured out that the amount of money needed to comply far exceeds the highest amount of federal funds offered.

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  4. SaucyVixen

    We have a tiered system where I work. The problem with it, however, is the framework.

    The tiers are, obviously, statutory creations. So the Legislature, it its infinite wisdom, defined certain convictions to fall into certain tiers without any risk assessment actually taking place (as that would require money).

    The problem? Well, there are a few: First, in an effort to appear tough on crime (particularly sex offenders), the Powers That Be assigned to Level 3 the offenses that *sound* worse than they are. Example: “Rape of a child” sounds really bad, doesn’t it? What is it in reality? Statutory rape of an individual under 16. So if a 16-year-old has consensual sex with a 20-year-old, the latter may be tried and convicted of “rape of a child.” My point? While the tiered system is arguably better than not, it’s completely misused. So instead of being “good,” it is merely “less bad.”

    I had two other points that I wanted to make, and now I have no recollection of what they are. If I think of ‘em, I’ll post again.

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  5. Ilah

    “The tiers are, obviously, statutory creations. So the Legislature, it its infinite wisdom, defined certain convictions to fall into certain tiers without any risk assessment actually taking place (as that would require money).

    Precisely the trouble with all conviction-based tier systems. Add in the fact that they’re applied retroactively–as the AG has advised AWA should be applied–and you have registrants who’ve committed no crime in decades being classified as immediate dangers.

    I’ve mentioned before that Indiana had fewer than 50 “sexually violent predators” a couple years ago. These were folks who’d been assessed by mental health professionals and the courts as being at high-risk to re-offend. Now there are thousands of SVP (and will be more when DOC completes its review). Who are those 50? There is now no way for the registry-viewing public to know.

    From the other direction, conviction-based systems “under-assign” a high-risk offender who pled to a less charge.

    (It’s often pointed out that the only criminals with a lower re-offense rate than sex offenders is murderers. So who did Indiana recently decide needed to be registered? Murderers. Go figure.)

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  6. Mark Mahoney

    What is happening in CT with residency restrictions? Has sHB 5503 been approved (requires the Risk Assessment Board to use the risk assessment scale it develops to determine the sex offenders who should be prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of the property comprising an elementary or secondary school or a licensed center- or home-based child day care facility) and has there been any effect?

    Mark Mahoney
    Buffalo, NY

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  7. EUGENE LEMMONS

    A STATEMENT OF RIGHTS

    RIGHTS DEFINED: THE “RIGHTS” GRANTED TO EVERY CITIZEN ALSO APPLY TO “ALL” SEX OFFENDERS & FLOW FROM COMMON LAW,CONSTITUTIONAL LAW,&STATUTORY LAW .THESE RIGHTS CAN BE DIMINISHED, IF A PERSON ADVERSELY INFRINGES ON THE RIGHTS OF ANOTHER PERSON.
    SOME RIGHTS ARE SO FUNDAMENTEL THAT THEY NEED NO LAW TO DEFINE THEM. AT BIRTH A PERSON IS AUTOMATICALLY ENTITLED TO A PLACE IN SOCIETY,A PLACE TO LIVE ,A PLACE TO WORK TO SUPPORT THEMSELVES,A PLACE TO WORSHIP GOD ACCORDING TO THEIR BELEIF, & THE RIGHT TO MARRY , ESTABLISH A HOME & BRING UP CHILDREN. ABSENT A CRIMINAL ACT , & THEN ONLY DURING THE SENTENCE OF THE ACT ,& THEN ONLY DURING THE SENTENCE FOR THAT ACT , THESE RIGHTS ARE FUNAMENTEL & CANNOT BE ELIMINATED- BY ANYONE OR ANY GOVERMENT .

    SOCIETY GENERALLY PERCEIVES, THAT ALL SEX OFFENDERS WILL RECIDIVATE ( OFFEND AGAIN ) AND BECAUSE OF THAT PERCEPTION ,SOCIETY BELEIVES THEIR RIGHTS ,CAN OR SHOULD BE DIMINISHED & SOME EVEN FEEL ELIMINATED!BUT, BUT , THANK GOD THE CONSTITUTION PROHIBITS THAT !

    THERE ARE SOME FOLKS WHO WANT TO DIMINISH RIGHTS TO EXIST FOR ALL SEX OFFENDERS , THOSE FOLKS FAIL TO RECOGNIZE, IF GOVERMENT CAN DIMINISH RIGHTS OF -ANYONE OR A GROUP-,THEN IT HAS THE POWER TO DIMINISH RIGHTS OF EVERYONE !!
    SOMEDAY, EVERY DOOR MAY KNOCK !

    PERSONS CONVICTED OF A CRIME HAVE A CIRCLE OF PEOPLE AROUND THEM, THEIR ZONE OF ASSOCIATIONS,AND THEIR FAMILY, (OFTEN WITH CHILDREN ),FRIENDS, BUSINESS ASSOCIATES, AND THEIR DAILY CONTACTS .FINALLY WHEN THE OF A PERSON “PREVIOUSLY” CONVICTED OF A CRIME ARE DIMINISHED,IT EFFECTS NOT ONLY THAT PERSON ,BUT EVERY PERSON IN THEIR ZONE OF ASSOCIATIONS -
    EVERY ONE SUFFERS ! INCLUDING THEIR CHILDREN .

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  8. charles mcgonagle

    I agree that there are many bad people in this world that we all need protection from. However the currant and purposed sex offener laws are not doing what they were put into place to do. I am a registered sex offender and this is my story. In 1985 I was only twenty. I was at a party and met a girl. We were all drinking and having a great time. I ended up in my car with this girl and we fooled around. We came close but did not have sex. It turns out she was underage. I did six months in jail for my “crime”. Ten years past and during that time I got married, had two children, went back to school and got my degree. In 96 I get a letter telling me I am a sex offender and I must register until I am dead. This was not on public record. While registering at some police departments I was spit on by cops. I was shoved into a wall. I was forced to sit and be degraded. I was threatend by police as well. Now twenty three years after my “crime” I am on the public web page labeled as a child molester. All of my neighbors hate me and want me to move. My job and career that I have spent years building will be lost soon. This means I will lose my house. My daughter is harresed at school by her peirs. My life is in ruins and I am told that it will only get worse do to upcoming law changes for next year. As I understand it the sex offender registration is supposed to Protect people and not further punish the poeple on it. I am constantly told by my states officials that I am not being further punished. Oh just for the record I have never had a sex offence before of since that incodent. Am I a threat to sociaty? Are your children in danger of me? There are many people out there in the same situation as I am. Where have OUR rights gone? Are we to be considered the exceptable casualties of unjust and confused laws. I guess our lives are expendable in the name of protecting the people. Can you really read my story and say to yourself that I deserve this? I am truly sorry if you of someone you know or love has been hurt by a truly bad person. Please explain to me why trashing my life fixes that for you. Send your responce to charlesmcgonagle@comcast.net

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    1. t.s.law

      i’m in a simular situation,i was convicted at 18 years of age for misconduct with a 15 year old. got 5 years probation + lifetime registration. after 3 years i was re sentenced and released from regestration.i never had any previous or any further trouble. at 40 years old i was arrested for rolling papers and put on probation/with sex offender regulations i’m a father of three and happily married. since then i lost my job and home all because of this registration crap. ive passed all their sexual deviant polygraphs + have 4 phsyciatric profiles from 2 states saying i’m not a threat to anyone. but they won’t release me, i think they should weigh all cases on their own and asses each offender as an individual this cookie cutter broad brushstroke idea has caused many people to fail in life. i think these adults luring raping children should be watched but as for the rest of us leave us alone.

      Reply
  9. Christian Peper

    I have never committed a “sexual offence” or desired to do so but because I argue for the age of consent to be puberty and for safe sex being taught in school I have internet vigilantes posting slander about me all over the internet.

    This has hurt my job prospects.

    We live in a classic police state. This is no different than the Nazis vs. the Jews. All ready over 1 out of 100 in USA is in prison and over 8 million are in the system (probation, etc.).

    The USA can’t afford it’s prison fetish anymore.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Still waiting for registry reform | a public defender

  11. sandra bennett

    <I'm so glad that someone is looking at the sex offender laws. Not everyone need to be on the registry.

    Reply
  12. Jim Morris

    Its time to get rid of all sex offender registries all scientific studies conducted to date prove they do not work or protect the public additionally it has been proven offenders repeat rate is lower than most crimes. Should we punish sex offenders , yes we should but after they are punished that should be the end of it. The registries only continue to punish the offender and their children and other family members who have commuted no crime.
    Wake up this is America not Nazi Germany

    Reply

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