Swanson doesn't object to Arkansas'
sex offender registry, but she thinks it should contain a lot fewer than the
14,000 names currently listed.
many on the registry are not a threat to society," Swanson said. "I'm
against it being flooded with so many sex offenders" the predators can't
be adequately tracked.
and some studies agree with Swanson, director of Arkansas Time After Time, an
organization formed in 2010 to advocate for reforming the sex offender laws.
sex offenders and notifying neighbors for those deemed at a higher risk to
re-offend isn't necessarily bad, but there are problems, said Jeffery Walker,
chairman of the University of Arkansas at Little
Rock's criminal justice department.
has never been known to do much except scare the crap out of people around the
said she's run into a few state legislators who seem sympathetic to her cause,
but they aren't eager to be seen advocating for looser reins on sex offenders.
closed doors they say they get it, and a few of them I've heard have friends
who are on the sex offender registry," Swanson said. "There are some
who are totally against me. But I really wish we could find someone who would
stand up for us."
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, agreed, "nobody wants to look like
they're pro-sex offender." He understands, however, there may be issues
with the laws worth studying.
former state legislator who led the charge to create the registry in 1997 will
have none of that. Pat Flanagin, a former state representative from ForrestCity, labels the law's passing a
think our children are better protected than they were, and people who could be
victims of sex offenders have more safeguards," Flanagin said.
"There's better access to information about people who committed the
Cazort is administrator of the repository division of the ArkansasCrimeInformationCenter.
The repository manages and maintains all criminal records and the sex offender
registry. The registry had 13,915 people on it as of Aug. 18, including 810 who
contains 1,115 offenders with addresses in Benton and Washington counties.
oversees five workers in the registry department. It's a challenge to manage so
many offenders with so few workers, Cazort said. The department hasn't added
personnel in seven years, he said. Meanwhile, the registry keeps growing.
best I can tell you, we add about 9 percent a year. That's been pretty
consistent for the last several years," he said.
Kanka was 7 years old when a man who lived across the street from her New Jersey home lured
her into his house, then raped and murdered her.
marked the 20th anniversary of Megan's death. Her parents said they had no idea
her killer -- their neighbor -- already had two convictions for sexually
assaulting young girls. New Jersey
legislators moved swiftly to enact Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement
to notify the public about registered sex offenders and where they live.
states soon followed suit. Flanagin, who served 22 years in the Legislature,
said he didn't have much trouble finding support for his House Bill 1061, which
became Act 989. It was called the Sex and Child Offender Registration Act of
interest in the sex offender registry was inspired mainly by a high-profile Arkansas case in which a
man who raped a 17-year-old girl in 1984. Flanagin said the girl used to
babysit his children.
had a record of sex crimes before that," Flanagin said. "So it was
pretty clear he was a habitual type offender."
weighed the benefits of protecting children and sex-crime victims against the
privacy rights of offenders, Flanagin said. The American Civil Liberties Union
offender is assigned a risk level between one and four based on a state
assessment of how likely they are to commit additional sex-related crimes. In
2003, the Legislature mandated those sex offenders assessed at level three or
four may not live within 2,000 feet of the property on which any elementary or
secondary school or daycare facility is located. Public parks and youth centers
were added to that list in 2007.
are familiar with the laws say rules such as residency restrictions force
offenders into rural areas where they lose the support of friends and family.
Being forced to register as a sex offender for at least 15 years makes it hard
to find a job or sustain a career. And while the registry alerts people to the
presence of sex offenders in their neighborhood they wouldn't otherwise know,
the concept of "stranger danger" is overblown, some say.
registry has done little, if anything, to improve the sex crime rate, Walker said. Besides that,
the recidivism rate among sex offenders is below 10 percent for all crimes; the
recidivism rate specifically related to sex crimes is below 1 percent, Walker said.
study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice analyzed the impacts of
Megan's Law in New Jersey
on the overall rate of sexual offending over time, the deterrent effect on
re-offending and the costs involved in implementing and enforcing the law.
concluded Megan's Law had no demonstrated effect in reducing sexual
re-offenses. The law had no effect on the type of sexual re-offense or
first-time sexual offense, nor had it reduced the number of victims involved in
sexual offenses, according to the study.
ten-Bensel, an assistant professor in the university's department of criminal
justice, said there's no evidence to show residency restrictions reduce crime.
"In Little Rock there's only
one or two pockets where sex offenders are allowed to live," ten-Bensel
said. "They can't live near schools, day cares, parks. It's hard for them
to get a job and keep a job. It's hard for them to get to treatment. They can't
get to the family and friends that are their support system. The smarter thing
would be to have them closer to their support system."
people view the sex offender registry and notification system as a way to
protect children from strangers, but the concept of "stranger danger"
is overblown, ten-Bensel said. A 1997 Department of Justice study reported for
nearly 90 percent of the youngest victims of rape -- those younger than 12 --
the offender was someone known to them.
Kraner, a forensic interviewer with the Children's Advocacy Center of Benton
County, said "stranger danger" hardly exists. The center provides
services for sexually and physically abused children.
in a caretaker role, those are the majority of our offenders," Kraner
said. "We barely ever see cases involving a stranger."
The Watch Dog
Burton has worked full-time for the Benton County Sheriff's Office since 2009.
His job since November has been to monitor about 170 sex offenders who live in
unincorporated parts of BentonCounty.
offenders must check in with Burton
at least twice per year, on or around July 1 and Dec. 1. Level 4 offenders must
check in every 90 days. Burton
ensures the information he has on each offender is up to date.
everything from where they're living to their tattoos. Offenders also must
provide not only their email addresses but the passwords to those addresses.
Burton also sends notification postcards
and visits neighbors of dangerous offenders to ensure they are aware of those
offenders' presence in the neighborhood. He firmly believes in the laws that
apply to offenders.
think what we've got is working," Burton
said. "The end goal is to have a safer community."
residency restrictions make sense, he said. In fact, some offenders tell him
they're grateful for the restrictions because temptations to re-offend are
limited, he said.
lot of my offenders make a point of saying, I stay away from children because I
know what's going to happen," Burton
arrested a Level 3 offender last month in connection with two felony counts of
failure to register as a sex offender and one count of unlawfully living near a
school or day care. He said he sees those kinds of violations "over and
get some who just don't care," he said.
Burton said some offenders commit
additional sex crimes, but said he couldn't provide a recidivism rate.
An Offender's View
Swan, 32, appeared to be on the right track. He'd been honorably discharged
from the Marine Corps. He was married. He was a graduate student at ArkansasTechUniversity.
He had ambitions of becoming a high school teacher.
dreams fell apart in December 2007 when Swan was arrested and charged with
Internet stalking of a child, sexual indecency with a child and enticement of a
he'd begun chatting online with someone who initially identified herself as a
19-year-old woman. It turned out it was an undercover police officer.
he sent the person hundreds of pornographic pictures. The person with whom he
was communicating gradually told him she was younger than she said, dropping
her age from 19 to 17 to 15 to 14. He became confident the person with whom he
was communicating was an undercover officer, declined an invitation to meet the
person and cut off communication, he said.
you just looked at the wording of the charges, you would think I was a child
molester. The reality is I never looked at a child or talked to a child,"
fought the charges for more than a year, but accepted a plea agreement of 36
months in prison. His wife had left him by the time he was released from prison
in October 2011. An old college friend encouraged him to move to Fayetteville, where he
assessed as a Level 2 offender.
first year was about stabilizing -- getting a car, finding employment,"
Swan said of his move. "And now the bigger issues are the ones that keep
me up at night. I'm never going to be a real member of society. I'm forever
going to be on the outskirts."
works 40 to 60 hours per week in the restaurant business, waiting tables and bartending.
Avenues of steadier employment are difficult to come by because of his sex
offender status, he said. He believes the laws -- especially the ones
restricting residency for Levels 3 and 4 offenders -- are unnecessarily harsh.
laws are designed to drive you to the fringes of communities and then drive you
back to incarceration," Swan said. "I get it, nobody wants to see
children hurt or raped. But there are a lot of people out there not committing
sexual violence against children, and they're getting caught in the net."
Threet, prosecutor for the 4th Judicial District including Washington and
Madison counties, believes the sex offender laws are good. Threet said he'd be
surprised if there's any real evidence behind the notion residency restrictions
are an obstacle to rehabilitation.
an imposition on them and certainly makes adjusting more difficult, but
sometimes that happens when you make choices like committing a sex
offense," Threet said.
Smith, BentonCounty prosecutor-elect, said residency
restrictions apply only to Level 3 and Level 4 offenders.
get to Level 3 is a pretty hard thing to do," Smith said. "A lot are
in prison or have been in prison. You have to demonstrate a certain kind of
proclivity toward that kind of behavior."
assessment office estimates a little less than half of the offenders are level
3 or 4. Smith said he doesn't hear complaints about the rules being too strict.
only calls I get are, 'I can't believe this Level 2 guy doesn't have residency
restrictions.' I think the way the law is currently structured, that's
abundantly fair," he said.
for Missing & Exploited Children fully supports sex offender registries,
according to Staca Shehan, director of the center's case analysis division in Alexandria, Va.
The center employs analysts who assist local law enforcement agencies in
tracking down noncompliant offenders.
notification systems, Shehan said, "allow the public to know who's living
in their community, and being better informed allows them to incorporate safety
planning and messaging in their families that's appropriate in a pro-active
Offender Screening and Risk Assessment program, coordinated by the Department
of Correction, is "very thorough," said administrator Sheri Flynn.
The program was launched in 1999 because of the need for consistency in the
assessment process and because local law enforcement agencies did not have the
time or expertise to conduct individualized assessments, Flynn said.
program has the right to virtually anything that's been written down about an
offender. Staff members do face-to-face interviews. Those interviews can reveal
crucial information that dramatically affect an offender's level assignment.
points to one case involving a man who'd been convicted of sexual indecency
with a child. Based on that lone conviction, the man would've been classified
as a low-risk offender. During the course of the assessment interview, however,
the man admitted he'd gotten away with sexually assaulting hundreds of other
children during his life. That admission earned him a Level 4 designation.
have almost always done more than they're caught doing," Flynn said.
"They're gifted at getting the child not to tell."
one-third of Level 3 sex offenders are assigned that level by default.
Offenders can default by failing to appear, failing to cooperate, or becoming
aggressive during the assessment process.
notification is required for offenders assessed at Levels 3 and 4 and certain
ones at Level 2.
people automatically think of a child molester when they hear the term sex
offender, Flynn said. But there's a long list of target offenses for which one is
required to register, and not all are related to sex.
example, permitting abuse of a child is a registerable offense. Sometimes it's
physical abuse. There's really no reason for that person to be on a website
anywhere," Flynn said.
it's an 18-year-old who had sex with a 14- or 15-year-old. In most cases like
that, the convict never goes on to re-offend, Flynn said.
A Mother's Campaign
son was in college when his roommates caught him with child pornography on his
computer and turned him in to authorities, she said. Her son ended up spending
10 months in prison. He is now a Level 2 offender, on parole and living in
ended up being on TV, newspapers, lost all his friends, got kicked out of
college," Swanson said. "This is a kid who never even got sent to the
principal's office. So for a first-time offense, that's what I have a really
hard time accepting."
After Time" refers to the group's belief that sex offenders pay the price
for their crimes over and over again, Swanson said. The group declares its
mission as protecting kids and communities by differentiating between those
truly dangerous sexual predators and those who merely made a mistake, served
their sentence and are working hard to re-integrate themselves into society.
allows someone on the registry to petition for removal. As of Aug. 19, 152
people had petitioned to get their names off the registry successfully,
according to a state official.
stipulates no one can be removed from the registry without a court order.
Lifetime registration is required for Level 4 offenders. Others must remain
registered for at least 15 years.
one of the rules Swanson would like to see softened.
have to hire a lawyer and cross your fingers just to get off the
registry," Swanson said.
want to see if we can get it to where if you have not done any other crimes and
done everything the state has asked you to do, you should be let off the