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State Auditor Finds Vermont Sex Offender Registry Unreliable
On June 25, 2010, the Vermont State Auditor released a report entitled Sex Offender Registry: Accuracy Could be Significantly Improved. As the title implies, the auditors found critical or significant errors in 79% of the community-based Sex Offender Registry (SOR) records audited. The errors were discovered by comparing information in the SOR with actual paper records from the courts and the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). Using automated data analysis tools to scan the rest of the SOR for obvious errors, the auditors discovered an additional 195 critical or significant errors.
In 1996, Vermont’s SOR was established at the Vermont Crime Information Center (VCIC) of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) with the passage of 13 VSA, Chapter 167, Subchapter 3. The statute was subject to multiple subsequent amendments in such areas as the definition of a “high-risk” sex offender and which registrees must be posted on state and national Internet databases.
At the time of the audit, the SOR contained 1,549 records for sex offenders (SOs) who lived, worked or went to school in Vermont (community-based SOs). The audit was based on 57 community-based records, sufficient to achieve a +/- 5% accuracy. Additionally, 53 inactive records of imprisoned SOs were audited to ascertain whether they were actually in prison.
The audit revealed few errors in some areas. For instance, testing related to whether the database contained all SOs convicted and sentenced in Vermont over a three-year period revealed few or no errors. Likewise, the VCIC was generally receiving timely information from SOs using the annual process to verify registration information. However, the audit was unable to verify the accuracy of the information provided as that would have required physically visiting the registration addresses. The DPS does not verify the accuracy of the information, relying instead on periodic sweeps of SOs by local law enforcement to determine whether their registered addresses are correct.
The auditors discovered problems in such areas as (1) persons being listed on the SOR who did not qualify for registration; (2) errors in dates that affected how long a person must register; (3) persons listed on the Internet SOR who did not qualify for such listing; and (4) a variety of incomplete, inaccurate or omitted data.
Of the 57 community-based sample records audited, 16 (28%) had inaccurate or missing sentence discharge dates. Those 16 and an additional 13 had incorrectly calculated end-of-registration (EOR) dates. Twenty-two should have been listed as requiring lifelong registration, but instead had EOR dates listed. Thirty-eight were incorrectly listed as requiring lifelong registration. Six were improperly listed on the Internet SOR, while 4 who should have been on the Internet SOR were not. Twelve percent of the Internet SOR records contained incorrect or incomplete information.
Nine (16%) of the SOR records had incorrect victim age information and 12 (21%) omitted the victim’s age, even though that information was available in case documentation. The victim’s age is important in determining whether the SOR record must be posted on the Internet, whether the SO is high-risk and whether lifelong registration is required.
Only about a third of parole officers knew who was responsible for sending updated SOR information to the VCIC. This type of misunderstanding, coupled with an SOR process that largely involves non-automated paper forms, as well as the incompatibility of various DOC, parole and VCIC computer systems, makes the SOR process slow, labor-intensive and error-prone, the auditors found.
Over half of the VCIC files reviewed were missing forms on treatment status that the DOC was supposed to submit. About half of the parole officers interviewed said the DOC provided them with mandatory forms on treatment compliance less than 25% of the time. The files of almost half of the SOs required to submit annual photographs of themselves did not have current photos.
The audit report concluded with a number of recommendations for tightening controls of SOR records and improving data sharing between the DOC and VCIC. The DPS and DOC concurred with the findings and recommendations of the report. The report is available on PLN’s website. See: Vermont State Auditor Report No. 10-0.
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