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Only Three States in Compliance with Unfunded Federal Sex Offender Mandates

by Matt Clarke

In 2006 Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Act, which requires states to institute stricter monitoring of sex offenders or face losing 10% of their federal crime-prevention grants. Although all states were supposed to comply with the Act by July 2009, as of May 18, 2010 only Ohio, Delaware and Florida were “in substantial compliance,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Among other things, the Act, which is also known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), requires states to narrow sex offender classifications to three “tiers” ranked by dangerousness, and to impose strict report-ing requirements based on an offender’s classification.

“We have states being very laid back and states where legislators are pulling out their hair trying to comply,” stated Alisa Klein of the Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers. “And there’s lots of states waiting for another state to bust a move and say, ‘We’re not going to comply.’”

One might think that the reason for this foot-dragging is the fact that sex offender registration laws do not reduce the rate of sex offenses. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, p.28; Aug. 2008, p.16]. Such is not the case. Rather, the delay is due to a more fundamental issue – the lack of money among cash-strapped states for yet another unfunded and expensive federal mandate.

The California Sex Offender Management Board estimates the cost of implementing the new sex offender reporting requirements at $38 million for that state. Federal crime-prevention grants typically range from a few hundred thousand dollars up to $1 million. Thus, in some states the cost of complying with the new rules will exceed the 10% loss of federal grant funds for non-compliance. “Obviously this funding loss pales in comparison with the cost of complying with the act,” noted California Dept. of Justice spokesperson Dana Simas.

Legal challenges to the Adam Walsh Act are also causing delays in the implementation of the sex offender regula-tions and driving up costs. For example, Gary Reece, 50, is mounting a legal challenge to Ohio’s new sex offender regis-tration rules. Previously he had to register in person only once a year and would have been removed from the state’s reg-istry after 10 years of good behavior. Under the federally-mandated requirements of the Adam Walsh Act, however, Reece must register in person once every three months for the rest of his life.

“It’s a tremendous burden, no doubt about it,” said Reece. “Every 90 days you have to take off work and go register – and if you miss once, you’re going back to jail.”

Add to that the fact that sex offender registration laws don’t reduce the rate of sex crimes, and the absurdity of spend-ing millions of dollars to enact such requirements becomes apparent. PLN has reported several successful challenges to the Adam Walsh Act, and other cases, including Reece’s, are still pending.

On June 3, 2010 the Ohio Supreme Court struck down portions of that state’s sex offender registration law which had been enacted to comply with the Adam Walsh Act. In a 5-1 ruling, the Court held that registration requirements for about 26,000 Ohio sex offenders would revert to less onerous conditions that were in effect prior to January 1, 2008. PLN will report this case in greater detail in a future article. See: State v. Bodyke, Ohio Supreme Court, Slip Op. No. 2010-Ohio-2424.

Nationwide, compliance with the Adam Walsh Act was extended until July 2010, and most states are expected to miss that deadline, too. Besides Ohio, Delaware and Florida, only two other jurisdictions have substantially complied with the Act: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

Sources: Associated Press,,

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