States Facing Budget Shortfalls and Compliance Problems

Across the nation, states are making difficult choices as they attempt to cope with unprecedented budget deficits. In Utah, legislators face a number of budget challenges, including the difficult task of finding the money to implement federally mandated upgrades to the state’s sex offender registry.

National Public Radio recently reported that only three states currently meet the federal requirements included in the Adam Walsh Act, a 2006 law mandating sex offender registry standards. Only Florida, Ohio and Delaware are now in compliance.

The federal upgrades must be in effect by July 26, 2010 to avoid penalties. The upgrades mean implementation of a tiered system of tracking offenders, with some offenders facing stricter reporting guidelines and harsher penalties for violations of the law. Not surprisingly, incarceration is the biggest threat law enforcement has to use against sex offenders; unsurprisingly, it’s the most expensive punishment available.

For many states, tracking the movements and locations of thousands of sex offenders is a budgetary burden they’re having trouble carrying in the midst of a historic recession. There are 700,000 convicted sex offenders currently registered in this country; another 100,000 are unregistered.

It’s not a simple or inexpensive task to keep tabs on this fast-growing segment of the criminal justice system.

A Look at Florida’s Sex Offender Registry

With more than 6,400 registered sexual predators and 38,000 registered offenders, Florida’s sex offender registry is one of the nation’s largest.

In Florida, sex offenders must report their current address to local law enforcement (the address is then posted in the online sex registry, along with the offender’s photo) for 25 years after release from prison. Sexual predators (someone convicted of a qualifying first-degree felony sex offense) must register for life. The state also tracks juvenile sex offenders. All three groups must give law enforcement their e-mail addresses and instant messaging information as well.

Whenever an offender or predator changes his or her address, the change must be reported to local authorities within 48 hours. State officials continuously update the sex offender registry.

Utah’s Sex Offender Registry

Utah’s sex offender registry is a uniform one; there are no tiered status levels as in Florida.

Utah sex offenders must register the following information with law enforcement authorities:

  • Names and aliases
  • Primary and secondary addresses
  • Physical description
  • Vehicles the offender owns or regularly drives
  • Current photograph
  • Set of fingerprints (if not already provided)
  • DNA specimen
  • Telephone numbers
  • Internet identifiers
  • Name and address of employer

If Utah doesn’t implement the more expansive and more expensive sex offender tracking system by July 26, it stands to lose 10 percent of a congressional grant for law enforcement. Like many other states, Utah might well opt for the funding penalty over the costlier registry compliance.

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