By Kristen Curran
Do you know your neighbors? Utah”s official Web site has a list of approximately 8,400 registered sex offenders living in the state.
The registry was developed in the early ”90s to comply with “Megan”s laws.”
In July 1994 a neighbor in suburban New Jersey kidnapped Megan Kanka. He lured the 7-year-old into his home to look at his puppies; he then raped and murdered her. The Kankas had no idea their neighbor had spent several years in prison for sexually abusing a child and was currently on parole. Megan”s parents lobbied for a national sex offender registry to help other parents avoid a similar tragedy.
Each state is required to have a registry, though the specifics of each registry are not universal.
“We update [the Utah registry] every day,” said Jack Ford, spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections. “The entire time you are in prison or on probation or on parole, you are on the Web site. Once your sentence is finished, you”re no longer in prison or on probation or on parole, you stay on the registry for another 10 years after that.”
The registry originally had approximately 400 offenders listed. During a lawsuit claiming the registry was excessive punishment, the registry was put on hold for four years. In 1997 a federal judge threw out the lawsuit and the registry was reinstated.
Anyone can access the registry online at http://corrections.utah.gov/community/sexoffenders/. The Web site can be searched by name or zip code. Sex offenders have their address, photo, car and crime listed.
“I think it is a very good thing to have,” said Melanie Mueller a stay-at-home mother and resident of Spanish Fork. “It empowers the people to be able to know what is going on right in their own neighborhood.”
Since the registry has been implemented it has been used to by thousands of citizens, according to Ford.
“The problem with [the registry] is that once [the offender] is off probation or parole we are no longer supervising [the offender]. We don”t have any jurisdiction. The registry requires that [the offender] tells us if they move, if they change jobs, if they get a new car,” Ford said.
According to Ford, the biggest source of information are victims, ex-wives and family members who call the Department of Corrections and let them know current information on the offender. The department verifies the information and charges the offender with a class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine and possible jail time.
“We have [offenders] moving out of state all the time,” Ford said. “We have sex offenders in California where it is a lifetime registration and they don”t want to be on the registry so they move to Utah and they don”t tell us they”re moving in here.”
There is no cooperation between states to maintain the registries. According to Ford, California in particular is difficult to deal with because the state is just happy to get rid of the sex offenders. If the offender is still on probation or parole however, Utah can refuse to accept them in the state. There is no guarantee the state will be informed when offenders move in.
“Sex offenders have, contrary to what the media tells people, have the lowest recidivism rate of any group of offenders,” he said.
According to Ford, offenders are not let out of prison in Utah until they complete sex offender treatment. Repeat offense rates drop into the teens. Every other group has 50 percent repeat offense rates after one year and 75 percent after three years.
Ford suggests, along with the sex offender registry, why not have a drive-by shooter registry or methamphetamine-lab manufactures registry. There is also the possibility of sex offenders in the neighborhood that are not on the database because they”ve never been caught. Ford questions the sense of security the registry gives. He said just because there is a list of possible sex offenders available, it does not guarantee safety.