Government Technology

Online Sex Offender Info Rapidly Expands



January 15, 2009 By

This article reprinted with permission from Stateline.org

States are under pressure to comply with the Adam Walsh Act by July -- or lose 10 percent of their share of funding under a federal grant program that pays for state and local police programs.

Arizona parents who want to find out whether a suspicious e-mail has been sent by a registered sex offender now can check the sender's e-mail address against the state's database of convicted molesters.

Utah residents can sign up for e-mail alerts to notify them when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood.

Wisconsin's online registry provides maps to let users know exactly where the closest sex offender lives.

And in Texas, the state's sex offender registry -- which includes more than 54,000 people -- now features information ranging from offenders' work addresses to their nicknames and even shoe sizes.

The four states are among more than two dozen that quietly have added a wide range of new services -- and new categories of information -- to their online registries of convicted molesters. All 50 states have publicly searchable sex offender registries, which are accessible through a national database kept by the U.S. Justice Department, a Web site that averages 2.3 million page views a day.

The new features come as states approach a July deadline to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, a 2006 federal law intended to crack down on the estimated 674,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. The law was named after the murdered 6-year-old son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh, who was informed by police in Florida on Dec. 16 that his son's killer was identified after more than 25 years.

The Adam Walsh Act requires all states to adopt the same minimum standards for registering and tracking sex offenders, including the information they post online. Under the law, states must include where sex offenders work and go to school, the cars they drive, the aliases they use, the crimes they have committed and more.

The law also calls for some juvenile offenders as young as 14 to be included in online registries, though many states so far have balked at that provision, arguing that juveniles should not be singled out publicly.

Many state lawmakers, corrections officials, advocacy organizations and members of the public have criticized the Adam Walsh Act, questioning its costs, demands and whether aspects of it do more harm than good. The posting of new information about sex offenders also has drawn criticism. Blogs and other Internet forums have buzzed as visitors voice frustration over the trove of details now available to anyone at the click of a mouse.

"The Justice Department says it's there simply for information and not for punishment. If they were in our shoes, I think they'd reconsider," said Carlos Robles, 32, a registered sex offender in Austin, Texas. Robles -- who received probation for engaging in consensual sex with a 16-year-old when he was 20 -- said nonviolent and low-risk criminals should not be included on the Texas registry.

States are under pressure to comply with the Adam Walsh Act by July -- or lose 10 percent of their share of funding under a federal grant program that pays for state and local police programs. No states have been deemed compliant with the Adam Walsh Act yet, though they can apply for a pair of one-year extensions.

At least 13 states last year and 12 states in 2007 passed laws authorizing the collection of new information from sex offenders, according to the


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