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Monday, July 8, 2013

The Texas Legislature and Governor Rick Perry Agree to Remove the Employer Name and Address of Registered Sex Offenders from their Public Registry. Why Has Virginia Rejected the Same Proposal Twice (2010 & 2012)?


 
Back in March 2013 I emailed the Virginia Legislators with a link to an article advising them of pending legislation in Texas that was inspired from two past bills that I lobbied for here in Virginia. Mary Sue of Texas Voices contacted me a few years back for the verbiage used in our Virginia bill. 

I am so very pleased to announce that the Texas Legislature did the right thing not just for the successful re-entry of their registered sex offenders and families but for employers across their state. Governor Perry has signed SB369-Removing the Employer Name and Address of Registered Sex Offenders from the public registry.  The employment information is expected to be removed from the registry after the law takes effect September 1st. Representative Burnam and Senator Whitmire were the sponsors. 

I have attempted twice to get just the employer/company name removed from the public Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry. The address would have still been listed and the map would still have been available but by removing the name of the employer the business would have no longer been publicly punished for giving an ex-offender a job. The practice of publicly shaming employers for hiring the best candidate is counterproductive and allows for customers, clients, contractors and anonymous callers to harass and condemn an employer for hiring a registered Virginian. Most employers don’t want to be bothered with the constant headache and pressure from those who choose to hate a person based on this label. 

Here in Virginia the 2012 HB413 was quickly stopped in its tracks but the 2010 version SB635  passed the Senate 40-0 only to be “killed” in the House Courts of Justice Criminal Sub-Committee.

The Federal Adam Walsh Act/SORNA guidelines mandate the address to be listed but not the company name. Yet the SMART Office has claimed AWA/SORNA compliance for 16 states and of those 7 do not publicly list the employer address. Certification is possible without meeting the address requirement.

As of September 2013 Virginia will be one of only 6 states who publicly list both the employer name and address.

As of September 2013 29 states will not list any employer information publicly.

Back on July 1, 2012 Kansas took similar steps and removed the employment information from their public registry and they are Certified AWA/SORNA compliant by the SMART Office.

Shaming businesses within our state, plus ensuring 20,000+ Virginians will never find more than a temporary job benefits no one but ensures a failed re-entry back into society.

It seems based on the 2010 vote such a bill has the approval of most of the Virginia Senate; the issue at hand is the House.

I just have asked all 140 Virginia Legislators (11 who are not running for re-election this November and 89 who are) if anyone is willing to sponsor such a bill at the upcoming 2014 Virginia session. Perhaps even companion bills, a House and a Senate version.

Article by Errin Whack: Advocates Worry About Details of Virginia’s New Program to Restore Voting Rights to Felons

 

RICHMOND — With a week left until Virginia has to determine how it will restore the voting rights of certain nonviolent felons, some advocates helping to shape the program are concerned about how the new policy will work.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced in late May that he would waive the waiting period and automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and satisfied certain conditions.

Grass-roots groups working with the McDonnell administration to streamline the process have spent weeks wrestling with details such as how to determine who will qualify, how to find the thousands who could be eligible, and whether felons should be required to pay outstanding fines before they can regain voting rights.

Restoring the rights of nonviolent felons has been a priority for McDonnell, who is in the final year of his term and cannot run for reelection. About 100,000 of Virginia’s estimated 350,000 felons are nonviolent, supporters of the governor’s program said.

McDonnell’s administration has restored the voting rights of more felons than any previous governor’s administration — more than 5,000 since 2010 — and the governor’s announcement in May was greeted by advocates as a departure from the Republican Party’s efforts to toughen voting laws.

Despite their concerns about the details of the program, advocates working with the administration praised McDonnell’s efforts and said they are hopeful that the new guidelines will help more felons regain their voting rights.

Opinion by Jill Levenson: Knowing the Numbers: How Bad Sex-Offender Data Could Cause More Harm

In the US Supreme Court's recent decision upholding sex offender registration requirements (SORNA) under the Adam Walsh Act [PDF], the Court's opinion [PDF] included the following statement: "SORNA's general changes were designed to make more uniform what had remained "a patchwork of federal and 50 individual state registration systems ... with loopholes and deficiencies" that had resulted in an estimated 100,000 sex offenders essentially disappearing off law enforcement's radar. 
 
It is astounding that in this age of widespread information and access to research, the Court is relying on inaccurate statistics. The commonly repeated statistic of 100,000 missing sex offenders is often erroneously attributed to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children or the US Marshals Service, both of which continue to proclaim on their websites that 100,000 sex offenders are missing — despite published evidence to the contrary. This misinformation is frequently included in congressional testimony and in media reports, influencing social policy, public opinion and funding allocations. 
 
A study published in 2012 disputed the claims that 100,000 registered sex offenders in the US are "missing." The study, conducted by University of Massachusetts Lowell criminologist Andrew Harris and myself, was published in the scientific journal Criminal Justice Policy Review. It analyzed data downloaded directly from online sex offender registries in 2010 and also surveyed states' registry managers. 
 
The study utilized a sample of more than 445,000 registered sex offenders listed on public registries. Harris and I were able to identify sex offenders designated by states to be transient, homeless, absconded, non-compliant or whose address or whereabouts were otherwise unknown. Nationwide, about 2.4 percent were officially listed as absconded, unable to be located or non-compliant with registration mandates. When including those designated as homeless or transient, the rate grew to slightly over four percent. 
 
Using the more liberal four percent figure to estimate the number of sex offenders living in the community whose whereabouts could not be verified, the count was calculated to be somewhere between 23,000 and 30,000. The study emphasized that these numbers included technical non-compliance as well as true absconding. Ultimately, no evidence was found to support the frequently repeated statistic that 100,000 (or about fourteen percent) of the nation's sex offenders are missing or unaccounted for. 
 
Harris and I also reported on data obtained in 2010 via e-mail and telephone surveys of state registry managers. Rates of registration non-compliance among registrants living in the community varied greatly, ranging from about one percent in some states (e.g., Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia) to approximately thirteen percent in others (California, Hawaii and Oklahoma). Nationally, the median rate of non-compliance is about 2.7 percent. The variation in how state systems defined and categorized offenders made it difficult to estimate exactly how many sex offenders have truly gone missing. 
 
Policymakers and courts should make decisions armed with current, published, peer-reviewed research utilizing appropriate methodologies. Those providing testimony (especially federally funded agencies) should be expected to inform legislative bodies, courts and media with current and credible data. To do otherwise breaches the public trust.
 
Dr. Jill Levenson is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Social Sciences at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. Recognized internationally as an expert on sexual aggression and sex crime policy, she has published over eighty peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and has co-authored three books on the treatment of sex offenders and their families.