Survey finds no state in position to comply with July 2009 deadline for Walsh Act's expanded sex offender monitoring

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Juvenile and retroactive registration, cost, tiering system cited as barriers

Not one of the 47 states that responded to a recent survey said it would meet the July 2009 compliance deadline for implementing the sex offender registration and notification standards required by the Adam Walsh Act, according to a survey released by SEARCH on April 23, 2009.

The email survey of the states was conducted in February and March 2009 by SEARCH at the request of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). Complete survey results are available on the SEARCH website.

SEARCH is directed by a Membership Group consisting of a governor-appointed representative from each state. The survey was disseminated to these SEARCH Members, who supplied the response data.

Title I of the Walsh Act, titled the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act or SORNA for short, sets minimum standards for sex offender registration and notification in the United States that, in many instances, are stricter than those established by individual states.

States that fail to comply with SORNA requirements by July 27, 2009, risk losing 10 percent of their funding under the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant.

Two of the 47 states that responded to the survey declined to answers its questions. Of the 45 states that did answer the survey questions, 42 reported that legislation would be needed to bring the states into SORNA compliance.

Two others were unclear whether legislation was needed, and one was unlikely to put forth more SORNA compliance legislation after two previous legislative attempts failed.

Tribal Compliance
Federally recognized Indian tribes were present in 26 responding states. Ten of those states indicated that they would work with the tribes on SORNA compliance through cooperative agreements.

Seven states said they were not planning to enter into cooperative agreements with the tribes in that fashion, and nine states had not determined whether the state and tribe would work together on SORNA compliance.

Common Factors
States responding to the survey cited a number of factors impacting their ability to comply with SORNA, although some common themes emerged (most states cited more than one impacting factor). The most commonly cited barrier to SORNA compliance was the act's juvenile registration and reporting requirements, cited by 23 states.

According to the SORNA guidelines, SORNA does not require registration for juveniles adjudicated as delinquent for all sex offenses, but it does require registration for a defined class of older juveniles (at least 14 years old) adjudicated for committing particularly serious sexually assaults, along with conspiracies or attempts to commit such crimes.

Retroactive registration was the second most frequently referenced SORNA barrier cited by the states (20 states). SORNA requires registration to be retroactive to certain sex offenders whose convictions predate SORNA enactment or its implementation in a particular jurisdiction. v The act requires the registration of sex offenders who remain in the system as prisoners, supervisees or registrants, along with those who re-enter the system through a subsequent criminal conviction, even if that conviction is not for a sexual offense.

Seven states were concerned with the cost of implementing SORNA, as the federal government has yet to provide funds to support its implementation.

Other Factors
Other results were as follows:
  • Seven states also cited as a barrier SORNA's requirement that convicted sex offenders be assigned to tiers based on the severity of their crimes, with Tier I offenders being considered the least dangerous and Tier III offenders the most dangerous. Length of registration requirement and other controls are based on an offender's assigned tier.
  • Four states' SORNA compliance was impacted by the act's in-person reporting requirements, which direct registrants to appear in person to register and, periodically, to verify or update registry information.
  • SORNA's palm print collection requirement was cited by three states as a barrier.
  • Several states expressed concerns about posting a registrant's school and/or employer information online, or about posting information on low-level offenders.

States may apply for two one-year extensions of the SORNA compliance deadline. Not surprisingly, almost all of the states responding to the survey expect to file for extensions and many have already received them.

This survey was the latest in a lengthy list of surveys conducted by SEARCH's Law and Policy Program. Other surveys are available for viewing or download on our Survey page.

For questions on the SORNA survey, contact Mr. Owen Greenspan, SEARCH Law and Policy Director.