States Pressed to Meet Sex Offender Registration Law
Hammond, Sarah, Armour, Jeff, State Legislatures
States are facing a deadline that requires them to change sex-offender registration policies or face loss of federal criminal justice money.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act is a portion of the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection Act. States risk losing 10 percent of the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant if they are not in compliance by July 27. These grants pay for many state and local criminal justice programs.
Wayne A. Logan of the Florida State University College of Law has studied sex offender policy, including federalism concerns raised by the act. He believes the requirements in the law are not adequately supported by evidence of their benefits.
"Of course we are all concerned with sex offenders and safety in the community," Logan says, "but you'd be hard pressed to find another area of public policy in which such extensive, invalidated and costly federal requirements are imposed."
While many related sex offender laws have passed in states since the federal requirements were put in place, there generally has not been a rush by states to meet the "substantial compliance" standard set in the Adam Walsh Act.
To date, several states have submitted compliance requests to the Department of Justice office set up to enforce the law, which is referred to as SMART. However, no states have been found in compliance with the act's requirements, according to SMART.
Some states have requested studies or created task forces to determine their level of compliance with the act's sex offender requirements, and what it would take to fully comply by the July deadline. Many of those studies include analysis of the costs and benefits of complying versus the loss of federal Byrne funds that would result from not complying. That equation is influenced by the 67 percent reduction in Byrne funds that took place, from $520 million in fiscal year 2007 to $170 million in fiscal year 2008.
Although there is speculation about how the new administration and Congress will handle Byrne funds, as it stands, some states may decide losing 10 percent of these already dwindling federal funds may be less than it costs to comply with the act's requirements.
Hawaii created an Adam Walsh Act compliance working group to determine whether the state should comply with the act. The act is "so rigid that we need to first study what compliance or noncompliance would mean for our state," says Representative Blake K. Oshiro, a member of the House Judiciary Committee that has been addressing the issue. …