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StarBulletin.com

Sexual registry law needs to be changed


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POSTED: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Federal attempts to keep track of convicted sexual offenders have been rejected by most states, including Hawaii, and the arrest of a convicted Hawaii offender in Arizona last week might illustrate the problem. An estimated 100,000 sex offenders are not living at their registered addresses, and states lack the resources to comply with the federal law. Changes are needed to make the system workable.

After legal challenges, voters gave the Legislature authority in 2004 to create an Internet registry of sexual offenders, who are required to update their addresses and other information every 90 days. The nationwide system of keeping track of offenders, created by Congress three years ago, appears to be on the brink of collapse.

“;We support the intent, and I'm sure every one of my attorney general colleagues supports the intent,”; Hawaii Attorney General Mark J. Bennett told the New York Times. “;But we believed we couldn't follow every single provision because, legally and practically, some of the provisions didn't make sense.”;

More than 2,500 sex offenders are included in Hawaii's registry, but at least one-fourth of those entries are unverified or the offenders are delinquent or noncompliant; they are required to confirm or update the information every 90 days. Larry Cox is one of those listed as having an unverified entry, which includes his Kihei, Maui, address, although he was reported to have updated his entry last Wednesday.

Two days later, Cox, 46, was arrested in Mesa, Ariz., and charged with fondling a girl in a Wal-Mart store, after her mother reportedly yelled that a man was trying to touch her daughter in a sexual manner.

Cox pleaded guilty 10 years ago to sexually assaulting two girls at Toys R Us in Pearlridge Center and the Salt Lake Kmart and was sentenced to one year in prison. He admitted during therapy that he had fondled more than 200 other children, which the judge said could not be factored into the sentence. The registry says the Cox entry was last updated on Sunday, the day the Star-Bulletin reported the Arizona arrest.

The federal law - named the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act after a 6-year-old boy abducted and murdered in 1981 - requires that offenders update their information in person as many as four times a year. That means offenders living on neighbor islands would have to fly to Honolulu every 90 days to pay a visit to Bennett's office, and that is unrealistic.

“;The single most important thing about it was creating a more consistent, uniform process across the country,”; said Ernest E. Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploiting Children, an advocacy group that collects the data from states and provides it to the U.S. Marshals Service. “;There are a lot of states that really don't know where these guys are.”;

States face a July deadline to comply with the federal law, but that has become even more unrealistic with the national recession. The law needs changing to reflect reality.