State is working to meet sex offender guidelines
The state's Sex Offender Registry Board says it is working toward a July 2010 deadline for implementing federal guidelines that would strengthen registration requirements nationwide.
However, questions remain on whether Massachusetts can or should comply with the mandate, though noncompliance could mean a loss of around $1 million in federal crime prevention funding.
Currently, Ohio is the only state that has complied with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.
The act creates a national registry and requires states and jurisdictions to meet a minimum set of standards in registering sex offenders and making the information publicly available.
The stricter requirements could prevent more sexual crimes from occurring, said the founder of a sexual assault awareness and advocacy group in Chelmsford.
"There are so many ways in Massachusetts that sex offenders slip though the cracks," said Laurie Myer, founder of Community Voices. "If we comply, it would help us as a state keep track of (sex offenders)."
But state officials this week declined to say what Massachusetts has done, or is doing, to implement SORNA.
"The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board is working toward substantial compliance," said spokesman Charles McDonald.
Implementation falls to that board, under the state's Executive Office of Public Safety. The Attorney General's Office referred questions to that office as well.
SORNA's guidelines call for state registries to collect more extensive registration information, require one to four in-person offender appearances annually for verification, expands a tiered offender classification system and stipulates what offenses require registration and for how long.
It also broadens the availability of sex offender information made public on registry Web sites and otherwise, and creates criminal penalties against offenders who fail to register.
In Massachusetts, sex offenders who must register are classified as Level 1, 2 or 3, based on the risk of re-offending, and in-person appearances at police departments are required annually for Level 2 and 3 sex offenders.
Information is made public online for Level 3 sex offenders only, is available by request at police departments for Level 2 offenders and is not made public for Level 1 offenders.
July 2009 was the original Justice Department deadline for SORNA implementation, however all states were granted an extension to July 27, 2010.
States may also apply for a one-year extension on top of that, by providing information on their implementation efforts, and why the extension is needed.
States that fail to implement SORNA could lose 10 percent of their justice assistance grant funding, which totaled $9.9 million for fiscal year 2009 in Massachusetts.
There is a risk of losing around $1 million yearly for noncompliance, based on the 2009 grant figure, but William Leahy, chief counsel for the state's Committee for Public Counsel Services, said compliance has its costs as well.
Leahy said the state would have to hire more staff and improve technology, among other measures, to comply with SORNA.
In letters sent to Gov. Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley in February 2008, Leahy says the state's existing sex offender registration statute already complies with many elements required by SORNA.
Most important, the state cannot comply with SORNA's guidelines for sex offender classification and verification and community notification because it would violate the state constitution, he said.
"The existing sex offender registration and notification act in Massachusetts is consistent with the purpose of SORNA and should constitute substantial compliance with the federal law," Leahy writes.
Yesterday, Leahy said a large majority of states have objections to implementing the standards, while here in Massachusetts state laws are an obstacle.
"There's a clash between the federal regulations and state law," he said.
Abby Jordan can be reached at 508-626-4449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.