Fixing Maine’s Sex Offender Registry

By State Senator Bill Diamond

The sex offender registry is a useful tool for making people aware of the offenders that live in their community.

It is a seriously flawed tool, however, and this year I have introduced legislation to correct the most serious of those flaws. The bill, entitled “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Sex Offender Registry,” would make the registry better able to perform its intended mission to inform people about the type of risks posed by convicted sex offenders by providing more detail about the types of crime committed, and more clarity in the description of the offense.

Primary among the problems with the existing registry is that it makes no distinction in understandable language between the types of sex offense the person on the registry committed or their likelihood to commit another offense. For example, there are some people on the registry who were required to register because of an age difference while dating or were convicted of a non-violent offense involving no other person, but under the law must still register. These offenders are grouped with those who have been convicted of very serious molestation offenses and from the general public’s viewpoint there are no distinctions made on the registry. Therefore, my bill would provide more information for the public and in many cases reduce unnecessary fear or concern by making the proper distinctions and creating a tier system, which could be easily understood when viewing the Maine’s Sex Offender Registry. While the exact criteria for this will be worked out as the bill goes through the legislative process, it would include such items as the level of violence involved in the offense and an assessment of their potential risk of committing another offense.

The current federal law known as the Adam Walsh Act was passed by Congress in July 2006, requires Maine to make many changes to our Sex Offender Registry, however some of those changes will require funding which may be difficult to obtain in these difficult times. Also, the Maine Supreme Court has deemed a portion of Maine’s Registry as being unconstitutional. Much more work will be needed during this legislative session. Fortunately, Rep. Gary Plummer has been appointed the House Chairman of the committee which will be reviewing the Registry and making the appropriate changes.

If you visit the registry (the website is http://sor.informe.org/sor/) you can readily find the names, ages, and addresses of people in a given community who have been convicted of a sex offense. Far less comprehensible is the description of the offense. This information is, I believe, critical to helping a person understand the type of threat a sex offender may or may not pose, and it is given in the current registry in very legalese jargon, which one must almost be a lawyer to understand. My bill calls for a clear description of the crime, including some idea of the circumstances in specific and understandable language.

I believe that the Sex Offender Registry is an important way for people to gauge the safety of their community. It must, however, give people a way to determine whether an offender is high risk or low risk if it is to adequately do its job. “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Sex Offender Registry” will make this a much more usable and understandable means for people to know the level of danger presented by the offenders in their community.

If you have any questions about this bill, or need any other help with an issue with the state you can get in touch with me at the State House by calling 287-1515 or visit my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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