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Virginia Issues Report on Monitoring of Sex Offenders Subject to Registration

by Matt Clarke

In January 2010, the Virginia State Police (VSP) issued a report on the monitoring of sex offenders who are required to comply with registration laws. The report noted a high rate of compliance (94%) with the Sex Offender Registry (SOR) requirements.

The report was signed by Colonel H. Steven Flaherty, VSP Superintendent, and addressed to the governor, House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee. It noted that there were 16,238 sex offenders on the VSP SOR as of 12-1-09. 3,171 of them were on parole or probation and 7,014 were incarcerated, leaving only 6,053 whose SOR information had to be verified directly by the VSP.

For this task, the VSP assigned 40 state troopers, four sergeants and a first sergeant to the Sex Offender Investigative Unit. The unit was divided into four regions which were further subdivided into a statewide total of 11 sub-regions. The purpose of the unit was to enforce SOR requirements.

Between 12-1-08 and 11-30-09, the unit conducted 2,651 criminal investigations for “Providing False Information” and “Failure to Register.” There were 972 arrests and 379 convictions for those types of offenses. During that period, VSP received 1,605 tips or comments requiring investigation through its website.

The manpower level of the unit remains unchanged since its creation in 2006. To meet the 2008 Manpower Augmentation plan goal of one trooper per 100 sex offenders, the unit would have to be increased to 55 troopers plus the five sergeants and four administrative and office specialists II. These 64 employees would verify the home, work and school addresses in the SOR. State law requires sex offenders to update SOR information twice a year.

This represents millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to ride herd on a few sex offenders with no proof that this enforcement activity does anything to prevent sex offenses. Other jurisdictions that have studied the issue--including New Jersey, the jurisdiction that first enacted Megan’s Law--have found no reduction in the rate of sex offenses after the enactment of registration laws. [PLN, Dec. 2009, p. 28]. The reason is that the vast majority of sex offenses are committed by people who have never previously committed a sex offense. [PLN, Aug. 2008, p.16]. This, coupled with the fact that sex offenders have a very low recidivism rate, means that neither registration nor residency restrictions can have much effect on the rate of sex offenses. They can, however, act as a form of public vengeance, making it difficult for sex offenders to procure housing or get a job while costing the taxpayers many millions of dollars in enforcement of SOR laws, prosecution of SOR law violators and incarceration of SOR violators for the victimless crime of failing to properly register. See: Monitoring of Offenders Required to Comply With the Sex Offender Registry Requirements. The report is available on PLN’s website.

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