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Some States Resist Implementing Adam Walsh Act Requirements

Under the federal Adam Walsh Act, also known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), states were required to implement standardized and stringent registration requirements for sex offenders by July 27, 2011 – following two extensions from the original July 2009 deadline – or risk losing 10% of their funding under the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program. [See: PLN, July 2010, p.24].

As of the July 2011 deadline only 14 states had passed laws bringing them into substantial compliance with SORNA. Those states included Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming (Guam and nine Native American tribes also were in compliance). Other states are resisting the SORNA standards, saying they are more expensive and less effective than existing registration requirements.

“They are reluctant to bear the cost of updating their own technology to register digital fingerprints, palm prints and DNA, and of paying for the additional time that law enforcement officers would spend processing sex offenders who appear before them in person,” noted Maggie Clark with Stateline, a nonpartisan news service of the Pew Center on the States, which reports on trends in state policy.

All states have some type of sex offender registration requirements. Texas and Arizona are leading the rebellious states that object to implementing SORNA.

The Adam Walsh Act “contradicts what our research over 30 years indicates,” according to Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment. “Public safety would not be enhanced” by compliance with the Act, she added. The council is an advisory body with a board appointed by the governor.

Officials in Texas also complain that the cost of implementing the new standards – estimated by the state to be $38.8 million – is much greater than the cost of losing $1.4 million in federal funding for opting not to comply with SORNA.

“In this budget climate, we don’t have the luxury of spending an additional $40 million,” said state Senator Dan Pat-rick.

Lawmakers in Nebraska, which will lose $163,000 in federal funding for failing to comply with SORNA, agreed. “For the money we’re losing, it’s just not worth it,” observed state Senator Brad Ashford. Nebraska is not in compliance because it does not list juvenile offenders on its sex offender registry.

New York, which receives $16 million in Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding, would lose $1.6 million for failure to comply with SORNA – much less than the cost of enforcing the Adam Walsh Act

“New York believes that our present laws and risk assessment method provide our citizens with effective protection against sexual predators,” said Risa Sugarman, director of the state’s Office of Sex Offender Management. New York formally opted out of the Adam Walsh Act in August 2011, citing costs and conflicts with state laws and public policy positions, including the placement of certain juvenile offenders on sex offender registries.

Further, law enforcement officials have pointed out that because the vast majority of sex offenses are committed by family members or acquaintances of victims, not strangers, and the recidivism rate for sex offenders committing new sex-related crimes is extremely low, registering such offenders in a database does little to prevent new sex offenses.

Lt. Ruben Diaz, who heads the sex crimes unit for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, admitted it is “very rare to find the perpetrator of a new sex crime among those already in the registry,” but acknowledged the registry is a “powerful tool” that can be used to track sex offenders and ensure they comply with the conditions of their parole or probation.

Under the Adam Walsh Act, only the type of offense is used to determine the level of threat posed by a sex offender. Arizona, Texas and other states prefer to use a system that includes factors such as the sex offender’s age and relationship with the victim to determine their likelihood of reoffending. Officials in those states argue that implementing SORNA would put more sex offenders into the database and cause law enforcement to lose focus on offenders who pose the most dangerous risk.

“We’re concerned Adam Walsh would decrease the standards of monitoring,” said Arizona state Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

Federal officials have countered that SORNA is less expensive to enforce than most states estimate. U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) senior analyst Scott Matson noted that one estimate was $18 million for Ohio to implement the Adam Walsh Act, but the actual costs were around $400,000. Linda Baldwin, head of the DOJ office that helps states implement SORNA, said that although some states would have to track more sex offenders under the new standards, state officials often misunderstand the Act’s requirements and overstate its burdens.

States that have declined to comply with SORNA have proposed compromises, such as permitting flexibility in the frequency of sex offender notifications, allowing states latitude in how they define juvenile offenders, and giving states the option to not apply SORNA requirements retroactively.

One must wonder why the federal government is so anxious to twist states’ arms to implement a law that doesn’t reduce the occurrence of sex offenses but does create a lot of new potential criminals – sex offenders who are not in compliance with SORNA’s registration requirements, and are thus subject to prosecution and incarceration.

As of January 2012 only one additional state, Tennessee, was in substantial compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, bringing the total to 15 states ... two years after the original deadline had passed.

Sources: Wall Street Journal,,,,

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