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SEX OFFENDERS States consider ways to track those missing



Published: Mon, July 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One molester who failed to register had been arrested or convicted in seven states.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

There are more than 500,000 registered sex offenders in the United States today -- convicted of a crime involving sexual abuse, released from incarceration, and required to report their whereabouts, in some cases for the rest of their lives.

Until they surface in the news -- as has happened recently, and tragically, in Idaho and California where two individuals are suspected of further sex crimes involving young victims -- they tend to remain in semi-anonymity in communities around the country.

But significant numbers are missing, no longer where they last reported. Among these: 957 in Arizona (including 126 of those considered most dangerous), 612 in Colorado, 700 in Virginia, and more than 17,800 in California.

Fighting back

Some states and communities are cracking down.

UArizona Gov. Janet Napolitano last week launched & quot;Operation Safe Neighborhoods & quot; to beef up the agency that tracks the state's 14,000 registered offenders while limiting the number of offenders on probation living in the same housing complex.

UTennessee and Louisiana now require some offenders to wear global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices; New York, Florida, and New Jersey are moving in that direction.

UTwenty-eight states require community notification when a registered offender moves in, and there is a push for such notification elsewhere.

UTwenty-two states have civil commitment laws to keep violent sexual predators confined, typically in mental institutions, after their prison sentence is up.

UFourteen states have buffer zones prohibiting registered sex offenders from living near where children congregate. In some areas - most notably Florida - such buffers are so large that they make it virtually impossible for an offender to live anywhere in the community.

But the problem of unaccounted-for sex offenders will persist, some experts say, until there is a strictly enforced national registry that makes it harder for offenders simply to move elsewhere and not register there, as recently nabbed serial molester Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller -- who'd been arrested or convicted in seven states -- apparently did.

All of this comes 10 years after passage of "Megan's Law," federal legislation requiring states to register sex offenders. Such laws now are on the books around the country. But they differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and critics say they fail to provide adequate protection to the public.

"Megan's Law was supposed to guarantee that if a sex offender moved in next door you would be notified by law enforcement, but that's just not the case, & quot; says Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, a national child advocacy group.

Of the 551,987 registered sex offenders around the country, the organization reported recently, 24 percent are failing to comply with registration requirements.

While those convicted of nonsexual crimes who have served time can reintegrate into normal life fairly successfully, sexual offenders face higher public standards. & quot;Just because someone has served their time does not mean that they have been rehabilitated, & quot; says Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., author of a bill creating a federal online sex offender database for the public. & quot;Recidivism rates are alarmingly high & quot; for sexual offenders, he said.




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