Handcuffs and fingerprints

SALT LAKE CITY — State officials are considering changes to the sex offender registry, starting with deeper data gathering to determine whether it is safe for more offenders to be removed from the system after long-term treatment and no repeat crimes.

Monica Diaz, Utah Sentencing Commission executive director, said a lack of more precise analysis prevents such potential flexibility.

“We may not capture who we think we are capturing,” she said. “There may be some in the registry who have a low risk to re-offend and we may be missing some with moderate or high risk.”

A work group of legislators, prosecutors, victims’ advocates and others are studying the issue, Diaz reported Tuesday to the Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

Existing state law says offenders convicted of first-degree felonies are on the registry for life, but those who committed misdemeanors and some lower-degree felonies can petition a court or the Utah Department of Corrections for removal after 10 years.

One main question is whether retention on the registry should be based on risk or offense.

“Should it be an actuarial, validated risk assessment to allow for removal,” Diaz asked.

Of about 9,000 people on the registry, more than 3,600 have completed probation and parole, she said.

About 350 names are deleted each year, some due to death and many as they reach the 10-year point, when those convicted of lower-level crimes are allowed to petition to leave the list.

One consensus the work group has reached, Diaz said, is that someone who receives a pardon should be removed from the list. There’s no such provision under current law.

When the state created the registry, its goals were to help law enforcement monitor offenders, inform the public, deter repeat crimes and increase community safety.

“We know it helps law enforcement and informs citizens,” Diaz said, but data on the success of the other goals is insufficient.

“The data we do have tends to say it does not deter re-offending,” Diaz said.

Current information indicates that most offenders who commit new sex crimes do so within five years.

“Low-risk individuals are offense-free 97.5% of the time” after five years, Diaz said, prompting the question, “Is there still a need to keep them on the registry?”

Among those on the registry who re-offend, there’s a high correlation to failed or incomplete sex offender treatment.

She said the Department of Corrections is gathering more data and the work group will analyze it as the process continues.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, and Utah Attorney General’s spokesperson Daniel Burton urged caution.

“Let’s make sure we are not under-reporting,” Ray said, referring to the widespread tendency of victims not to report sex crimes to authorities.

“A lot of times, with the rape culture, sex offenders are under-reported,” Burton said. “Capturing data is difficult.”

Wendy Parmley and Faye Jenkins, who work with the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network, said they support the systemic review.

Being on the registry “does cause collateral damage to other people,” said Jenkins, who said her husband “did offend and he is paying the price he needs to go through.”

She said offenders need an opportunity to “move on with their lives,” but years on the registry impedes employment potential.

Parmley said 25 states have a three-tier risk assessment process that allows registrants to appeal for removal from the list based on “risk reduction over time with rehab.”

But Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said the review should not be rushed.

“A lot of this is under-reported and we don’t know how many (offenders) are out there,” Romero said. “We don’t want to forget all those victims and survivors out there.”

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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