Florida hasn’t complied with new sex offender tracking law yet, but is getting there

-- Signed into law July 26, 2006, on the 25th anniversary of 6-year-old Adam Walsh’s abduction and murder in Hollywood, Fla.

-- Increases the minimum sentences for sex offenders, and upgraded sex offender registration and tracking provisions with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act known as SORNA.

-- SORNA requires that states have immediate information sharing capabilities so that when a sex offender registers or updates any information, a national registry is automatically updated and a notice would be sent to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, schools, housing agencies, as well as all other jurisdictions where a sex offender must register and organizations/agencies that need to be informed.

-- In addition to categorizing sex offenders into three levels, the law also lays out the amount of time a jurisdiction has to notify the new jurisdiction that an offender is moving to that area, and the offender has a limited amount to register at their new home.

-- The Walsh Act also increases penalties for Internet crimes against children and strengthens child pornography prevention laws.

To learn more about the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, the Adam Walsh Child Protection Safety Act and other agencies working on the monitoring of sex offenders, visit:

U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART Office) Web site.

U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Web site.

FDLE’s Florida Sexual Offenders and Predators Web site.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Web site.

One.

That’s how many states in the U.S. have fully complied with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection Safety Act of 2006.

The nationwide law is aimed at creating an across-the-board method of registering and tracking sex offenders throughout the country.

Previously, each individual state created and followed their own tracking and registration formats, which led to sex offenders being able to leave a state and start over in another because the law enforcement agencies did not communicate.

But Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Schall said SORNA evens out the playing field from state to state. Previously, the lack of uniformity created legal loopholes exploited by sexual predators, he said.

“A lot of times what they’ll do is plead ignorance,” Schall said, adding that in Florida a sex offender is expected to register with law enforcement within five days of moving into the state. “Failing to register as a sex offender is a felony in our state, but in others it’s a misdemeanor. This is trying to make it a uniform kind of deal. That will make things easier on everybody.”

And that’s key, said Collier County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ken Becker.

In the past, Becker said Collier Sheriff’s Office deputies may have arrested someone and a background check would reveal that they were a sex offender in a different state, but that their original home state didn’t register them.

“There was no record this person was sex offender in the system, Florida did not get notified they were here, and obviously they were in the community for a while,” he said.

The Act is aimed at toughening up the laws that were already there, said Scott Matson, a senior policy advisor with the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking, also known as the SMART Office.

But with Ohio being the only state that has “substantially” complied, along with two Native American tribes, where does Florida stand?

According to Matson, Florida is doing just fine since technically the final deadline for implementing the law has yet to arrive.

All 50 states, the District of Columbia and federally recognized Native American tribes were supposed to be in “substantial implementation” of the law by July 2009.

But all jurisdictions received an extension last year, Matson said.

“And they have another year if they request it,” he added.

That extension would push the final deadline for states to comply with SORNA to July 2011.

“It’s a process and in a lot of ways it’s not easy for a lot of states to fix their tracking and registration process,” said Matson.

To do that, some states have to go through their state’s lawmakers to craft a bill and change the necessary laws, he said.

“That’s one of the issues that takes some time,” Matson said.

The Act’s guidelines themselves were released in 2008, two years after the law was passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.

Matson said many jurisdictions were waiting for the guidelines before they began to undertake any major overhauls.

That was the case with Florida, said Mary Coffee, a planning and policy administrator with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Career Offender Unit and Sexual Offender/Predator Unit.

Legislation upgrades included implementing juvenile registration for 14-year-olds and older who commit aggravated sexual assault, quarterly/biannual re-registration requirements for offenders, 25-year to life time registration requirements depending on the charge, E-mail and instant message ID registration for offenders, and mandatory reporting if an offender fails to register with the state.

In the meantime, Coffee said the state did submit a compliance package at the end of last year and that she hopes to hear from the SMART Office within the next few weeks.

Yet advocates say putting the law into effect should have happened faster.

“It’s been a slow implementation and we are discouraged about that,” said National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President Ernie Allen.

Allen said the whole aim of the Adam Walsh Act was to create a post release system that provided better registration and more consistent follow-ups of sex offenders.

“We know that there are offenders that will reoffend, so it only makes common sense that there needs to be a system in place for better follow up and better supervision,” Allen said. “The last thing an offender needs is a situation where he can be anonymous, blend in and be around children.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently released a report tallying the total number of registered sex offenders — 704,777 nationwide as of December.

“That’s ballpark,” said Allen, who added that by since the numbers are nearly three months old, there now are more. “Our estimates are that at least 100,000 of those offenders are missing and noncompliant.”

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as of January there were 7,900 sexual predators, 45,325 sexual offenders and 93 juvenile sexual offenders in Florida.

Allen said he thinks the primary issue boils down to money and there are some states weighing the cost of losing federal funds versus complying with the Act.

“We understand, but our argument is that there are few things that are more important,” he said. “You can’t afford not to do it.”

As for Florida, Allen said he’s not worried about the state.

“Florida has been at the forefront of these kinds of issues for a long time,” said Allen. “We are confident that Florida is very close to becoming one of the states that is compliant with the Adam Walsh Act.”

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Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 4

samuelstorns writes:

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as of January there were 7,900 sexual predators, 45,325 sexual offenders and 93 juvenile sexual offenders in Florida.
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Isn't the list supposed to be for preventing crimes by predators? Forget the fact these laws don't prevent any crimes, according to this that is only 7,900 out of 53,225. So we are punishing 45,325 as predators even though they aren't? Ya punishing them. They face the same restrictions and label as the predators. Further more the public believes if you have the label "sex offender" you are a predator and child molester. Clearly that is incorrect.

We are punishing about 85% with this ridiculous label of sex offender in Florida that don't deserve it? What country do I live in again?

ShelomithStow writes:

“The last thing an offender needs is a situation where he can be anonymous, blend in and be around children.”
How ironic this is because this is exactly the situation we have now. Thanks to our over-bloated registries which become more bloated with the passing of each new law, the actual violent and dangerous predators know they are highly likely to be overlooked as law enforcement has masses of other sex offenders, albeit non-violent, non-dangerous, most likely consensual and non-contact ones, to keep up with. It worked well for Girrado, for Leggs, for Sowell.
I would like to see more balance in what is printed about compliance with SORNA and the AWA. This article makes it sound so logical and benign, but the fact that only one state is in compliance speaks volumes. According to The Scarlet Letter of the Twenty-First Century:

"Implementation of the AWA will undoubtedly cause problems for state governments, law enforcement, non-violent sex offenders, and citizens, both as taxpayers and intended beneficiaries of the AWA. Specifically, the AWA is an unfunded mandate that places severe and unfair registration requirements and punishments on sex offenders and requires offenders to register without distinguishing between violent and non-violent offenders or evaluating the likelihood of recidivism."

We don't need more compliance. We need questions about why what we are doing isn't working and if doing more of the same will work any better.

suetiggers writes:

There are always people on these blogs who do not get it, who assume that all or most of the people on the registry are dangerous or dangerous to children. Nothing could be further from the truth. MOST sex offenders are NOT dangerous. If someone is 19 and has a girlfriend 15 or 16 and it's consensual and someone reports it (usually malicious), if someone gets drunk and urinates in a public place, if someone sees a teenage prostitute (who may have even lied about her age), if someone streaks or moons someone, they could be on the registry. No wonder they couldn't find Garrido....so many on that thing that did not belong. These laws are so unjust, so extreme now. But the self-righteous, hateful, off with their .....fanatics want to bring back Salem. I hope more rational minded people will prevail. This bloated registry may serve to unduly frighten many parents, may titillate those who use it for amusement but make no mistake, it is ruining people's lives who do not deserve it. Right now there are so many non dangerous people are on there. A few of these have been murdered or killed themselves. I guess the fanatics are happy about that. "

Tusau writes:

There is a reason why the AWA has not been implement in all but one state. When it was under consideration, the House of Representatives HAD ONLY A 40-MINUTE DISSCUSSION on AWA. There were no hearings, amendments, or committee markups on the bill. No experts testified for or against it. John Conyers describe its passing this way, “ This legislation (AWA), all 164 pages, has managed to completely circumvent the traditional legislative process.”

Worst still, the Bill was passed on inaccurate data, that sex offenders were most likely to re-offend. This is wrong. The data says that they have one of the lowest recidivism rates of any group. (Registering Harm, p8)

This poor legislation led to laws that are unconstitutional costing States millions in court costs. The promise of Federal MONIES for the maintenance of AWA for each state were DRASTICALLY UNDERESTIMATED, which is the main reason states do not want to implement it.

FINALLY, John Walsh was clear on a CBS program when he said, “THE SEX REGISTRY IS BROKEN,” unmanageable and over exclusive with non-contact, non-violent and consensual offenders on it, which ties the hands of law enforcement to focus on the dangerous offenders.

The worse consequence of the AWA is the unspeakable and unjust human toil among offenders and their families. Shame those who support the implementation of AWA.

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