Grits thinks of Dexheimer as a reporter's reporter. He just keeps churning out good stuff over at the Statesman's investigative division on important topics at which nobody else is looking closely. Forgiving the headline writer's mixed metaphor, for which Dexheimer cannot be blamed, his latest contribution, "Program to corral ballooning sex offender registry failing" (July 14), focuses on the state's failure to cull the sex-offender registry of low-risk people. Doing so lets them focus supervision resources on more dangerous offenders and provides incentives for rehabilitation to folks being supervised. Despite those incentives, though:
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 90 percent of the state’s registered sex offenders are not considered to be at high risk of re-offending.He also gave a good account of the resource expended equally supervising high and low-risk offenders:
Yet the registry is like a cemetery: Because many offenders are placed on it for a lifetime, or at least decades, it only expands in size. Over the past five years, Texas has added new names to the list at a rate of nearly a dozen every day.
In 2011, Texas began a so-called deregistration process. The intent was to remove those who were unlikely to re-offend from the list and, in so doing, save taxpayers money. By focusing police attention on truly dangerous offenders, it would also improve public safety.
By that measure, however, the program has been a bust. In the 5 1/2 years it has been in existence, only 58 sex offenders have been permitted to deregister from the Texas list — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the current registry.
Maintaining the growing lists is increasingly expensive. In 2006, the Texas Department of Public Safety assigned 10 staffers and spent $343,000 to manage the registry. By last year, it required 21 employees and nearly four times the money.He even quoted former Texas House Corrections Committee Chairman Ray Allen, one of the original authors of our sex-offender registry statutes (and, conflict alert, one of your correspondent's former campaign clients back in the day), saying he was:
Local law enforcement agencies, where offenders must periodically check in, bear the bulk of the costs. The Houston Police Department, which monitors more than 5,000 registered sex offenders, employs 14 people — 10 of them officers — who do nothing else.
In an office behind the Austin Police Department’s reception area, officer Adrian Valdovino processes a steady stream of registering offenders. “You still have the same vehicle? Same plates?” he asks one. “Any other vehicle you have access to?” Each appointment takes anywhere from five to 45 minutes.
In recent years, the unit — seven officers and two civilians — moved to a larger office to accommodate the city’s approximately 1,800 registrants who must check in anywhere from monthly to annually. Occasionally, officers also stop by their listed addresses to make sure they really live there.
convinced the growing registry was actually threatening public safety.Eric's not wrong that policymakers zeal for fixing the situation has not matched the magnitude of the problem:
“When we first started writing sex offender notification bills in 1995 and 1997, we cast the net too wide,” he said. “There was a lot of concern there were a lot of sex offenders out there preying on children. We now have more than 85,000 people on the registry. And the reality is we have probably only four- to five-thousand dangerous sex offenders and a whole lot of other folks who were drunk or stupid or misguided who are very unlikely to commit future sex crimes.”
With a huge registry, “you’re creating a very large legal forest for the 5,000 (high-risk offenders) to hide in,” Allen said. “A list where 90 percent won’t commit another crime is not very useful to the public.”
Despite the high costs and marginal returns, there has been little appetite from politicians or even criminal justice reformers to fix the system. In recent years, politically conservative advocacy organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice have successfully pushed states to use evidence-based research to limit costly practices that do little to preserve public safety. But a spokesman for the influential Austin think tank said it had no plans to tackle sex offender registry reform.OTOH, he failed to mention our friends at Texas Voices, made up primarily of family members of registrants, who have built up a credible presence at the capitol and are increasingly the central group there pushing for reform. They're not a powerhouse like TPPF, but they're excellent messengers for confronting an unforgiving media narrative. And their addition to the conversation has been the brightest ray of hope on a topic which heretofore enjoyed only few and temporary champions. Texas Voices is beginning to get more serious and, in the long haul, I wouldn't bet against them and their indefatigable leader, Mary Sue Molnar.