Monday, August 30, 2010

Shocker of the Day

Georgia Sex Offender Registry Filled With Errors:

A new state audit has found that the state registry is flawed with error-ridden, out-of-date and incomplete information.

In a 53-page report, auditors faulted outdated computers, underfunding, understaffing and poor communication between government agencies.

Auditors wrote that “errors in the database and the incomplete information on the state website may misinform the public about the number of offenders and the threat posed by offenders in their community.”

The audit found:

● The GBI, which maintains the state registry “has not established adequate management controls over [registry] program operations.” The audit stated the GBI takes too long to add the information, allowing cases to pile up and only working on them “intermittingly.”

● In-state offenders also aren’t being listed in a timely fashion, and the registry isn’t keeping up with them when they move.

● The registry’s database isn’t listing all the information about offenders that state law requires.

● Physical descriptions and photographs of offenders are not being updated frequently enough.

● A special state review board, set up to rank offenders by their danger to the community, is so understaffed and backlogged that it has not classified thousands of offenders. The report found that only 6 percent of the state’s almost 20,000 offenders have been classified by the board, which due to budget cuts has only four full-time and four part-time staffers.

In response, the GBI blasted the audit, arguing that a for-profit correctional company, Offender Watch of Louisiana, which specializes in sex offender registries, swayed the results in order to make their product more appealing.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the two-person office running the registry at the GBI is doing the best it can, and the GBI is well aware of what it needs to fix. The issue is funding, he said. He said the registry started in 1996 with one staffer and 300 offenders. Today the office has two staffers — and almost 20,000 offenders.

Bankhead also charged that the audit was guided by a private company, Offender Watch of Louisiana, gunning for a state contract. Offender Watch has its own database and software to track criminals, including sexual offenders.

“That is just a direct conflict of interest,” he said.

Statewide system like ones that the company operates in nearby states would cost [Georgia] about $400,000 a year. About 40 [Georgia] sheriffs have hired Offender Watch to maintain their sex offender databases. Many of them are strong supporters. Carroll County, west of Atlanta, has been using the system for three years to keep track of about 250 offenders. The program costs the county about $7,000 annually.
Ain't that America, making a buck off sex offenders?

Meanwhile, as the article notes the back and forth between the GBI and the audit review panel, no one asks the obvious question: wouldn't it be more effective (and money saving) to just abolish the registry? The academic evidence against the deterrent effect of sex offender registries has been mounting for years, with some studies suggesting that the registries actually cause more crime than they prevent.

But since this has nothing to do with effectiveness, deterrence or public safety (and only to do with political capital), the registries continue to exist in all their ignominious glory.

BTW, congratulations to us here at TPE: this marks our 500th post.

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