Monday, April 9, 2012

Privatizing the sex offender registry puts you and your children at risk


The third of my Examiner.com articles.

Privatizing the sex offender registry puts you and your children at risk


Derek Logue
Cincinnati Crime Examiner



Privatization is the latest craze in government. In recent years, a number of government services have been targeted for privatization, including social security, medicare, and prisons. Privatization has many negative connotations associated with the practice, and as a result, controversy and opposition is not in short supply.
In recent months, the Louisiana-based "Watch Systems/ Offender Watch" business is privatizing the sex offender registry. Hundreds of Sheriff's offices and a handful of states have switched over to Offender Watch. The motivation for privatization is simple-- money. Supposedly, contracting business to the public sector saves a few taxpayer dollars. 
Is the state of Ohio really saving money by turning over the operation of sex offender data to a private business? I have my doubts. In 2007, when Ohio was debating the passage of the Adam Walsh Act, the legislative fiscal notes indicated the change of the current internet registry (then known as eSORN) would cost $475,000 in one time expenses and $85,000 per year in maintenance. By contrast, under the state of Ohio's current contract with Watch Systems, the state is shelling out $399,000 per year. 
In addition, Offender Watch has caused many problems in its short history. In November 2011, 10tv of Columbus reported that hundreds of people were "mistakenly" added to the public registry by Watch Systems:
 The state had been working to switch the entire registry operation over to a Louisiana company called Watch Systems. 
In early October, the state said the company took control of the search operation of the registry and mistakenly put inaccurate information into the system for all to see, Strickler reported.
The state attorney general's office said the problem was a result of human error. 
"There were probably hundreds, but we don't know exactly because we didn't take the time to go through the records individually," said Steven Raubenolt, Deputy Superintendent of BC&I.
I have my doubts this was "accidental." States compete for registry dollars, and the more people on the registry, the more money goes to the state. After all, this is the reason whyFlorida lists long dead sex offenders on their state registry (and perhaps in case they return from the dead). 
A second controversy has surrounded the misuse of statistics to justify their existence. Offender Watch-run websites have posted a false statistic claiming "50% of sex offenders re-offend." This stat was extrapolated from yet another privately run registry, Family Watchdog, which recently removed the statistic from the website. Some websites have posted the offending stat while others have posted more lower and more accurate stats (CLICK HERE to view the different web pages for comparison). 
One such example of stat inflation was recently reported in Connecticut, where a recent study has confirmed what has been known for mny years-- sexual recidivism is far lower than believed. The Connecticut study found only 2.7% of convicted registered sex offenders repeated their crimes, far lower than the 50% Offender Watch standard. Now, Offender Watch has dropped the 50% stat from many of it's websites
The thought of privatizing the registry should scare you, since it is obvious they will public advertise fear to sell their wares. Imagine a corporation investing money in promoting laws making it easier to add you or your loved ones to the public registry. Perhaps we'll see sex offender registry stock on the New York Stock Exchange as we currently see with the private prison companies GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. Worse, imagine contracts to keep the registry ever at full capacity like the private prison industry. In KATU of Portland's March 2012 article on the debate over expanding the registry, the person representing the side of expansion of the registry is Dan Meister who sells--what else-- background checks to paranoid individuals. 
The current registry is already bloated as a result of ill-conceived legislation, fear, propaganda, and special interest groups. Adding private business aspects to the registry will only serve to exacerbate an already existing problem with an all-encompassing public registry. How many more people are we willing to sacrifice for this false sense of security?

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