The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has recommended two incremental improvements to the state’s sex-offender registry. One is to include on the registry as much information as authorities have on the offenders who have failed to register with the state. The other is a classification system for offenders so the public can differentiate between a repeat rapist and someone who had consensual sex with an underage partner. Both are steps in the right direction.
The committee reviewed the state’s sex-offender registry after two men on the state’s online listing were killed in April by a Nova Scotia man who apparently had no ties to the men but simply found their names and addresses on the Web.
These murders don’t excuse in any way the crimes the sex offenders committed and it doesn’t at all say that continued local notification isn’t necessary. It says that if the state is going to take action against citizens, which it does when creating an Internet sex-offender list, it has a duty not to endanger them. With local notification already available and effective, the value of the Internet notification itself is doubtful, but if Maine is to have one, it ought to be done right.
Differentiating between low- and high-risk offenders, and how much information on each group will be provided to the public, will help.
In 1994, Congress required states to register sex offenders and revised the law in 1996 to make the information available to the public. Since then, all but four states have created online registries. Maine is among the 31 states that include offenders’ photographs and addresses on the Web site. Accessing a registered offender’s address in Maine requires the user to provide a name and address, although this can be made up.
Although the crimes offenders were convicted of are listed, they are described in technical terms that require linking to state statute to get information about the severity of the crime and the accompanying punishment.
Although details of new federal sex- offender registry law won’t be known until federal agencies write rules to implement it, it is expected to allow a tiered system. And while sex offenders in Maine are required to register with local law enforcement officials, 89 are known to have not done so. The committee recommended that the names and photographs of these people should be posted on the registry along with those who have complied with the law.
The committee reviewed an emotionally charged issue and came up with suggestions for improvements that should be acted upon.