Federal registry should help track sex offenders
President Bush has signed into law a measure establishing a national sex offender registry.
ATTORNEY General Mark Bennett warned past sex offenders last December that failing to comply with state registration requirements could result in five-year prison terms if they are convicted. A new law signed yesterday by President Bush would double that prison time. The problem remains finding them to bring to justice, and the federal law should make that task more achievable.
All 50 states have "Megan's Law" registries named after a 1994 rape and murder victim in New Jersey, and more than 560,000 sex offenders are registered, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. However, about 100,000 are not registered or have neglected to update the information.
More than 2,300 sex offenders are registered in Hawaii, but Bennett said 624 have failed to complete or update registration requirements, and the whereabouts of 247 of those are unknown. An Oahu grand jury indicted 10 men last week on charges of failing to comply with registration requirements, but authorities could find only one of them to arrest.
The federal law authorizes construction of a national sex offender registry site on the Internet and make state registries technologically consistent with it. Sex offenders are required to appear in person before authorities in states where they live, work or attend school to register and to frequently update or verify their registration information.
It also authorizes the attorney general to provide up to $5 million a year over a three-year period to finance pilot programs operated by states for electronic monitoring of released sex offenders. More federal marshals will be hired to help states hunt for sex offenders who have eluded the registries, and computer forensic scientists will be added.
Each offender will be assigned to one of three tiers, and the most serious offenders must report to authorities more often than those on the lower tiers. Those worst offenders are to remain on the registry for a lifetime.
The bill was named for Adam Walsh, the murdered son of John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted." Walsh was present at the White House for the signing of the bill yesterday, the 25th anniversary of his son's death. He called it "the toughest legislation in 25 years."
The law was needed because of the states' inability to keep track of delinquent offenders. Unfortunately, Congress likes to enter into areas that are more properly the states' responsibility. For example, it includes mandatory minimum prison sentences for sexually assaulting a child and allows the death penalty in some cases.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a letter to Congress that an earlier version of the bill provided for "10 new federal death penalties and almost 30 new discriminatory mandatory minimums that infringe upon protected First Amendment speech." The final version extends record-keeping requirements from depictions of actual sexually explicit conduct to "simulated sexual conduct."