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'Evasive' sex offenders register on honor system

The first in a three-part series

The first in a three-part series

October 02, 2005|By PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN

The Maryland Sex Offender Registry Unit operates on an honor system, trusting that convicted sex offenders will provide the registry with their current addresses.

Even with safety nets, the system, designed to let authorities and community members know where sex offenders live, doesn't always work.

And Maryland law doesn't require that local authorities - unless they receive tips - follow up to make sure sex offenders are living at the addresses listed on the registry.

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An investigation begun by The Herald-Mail in July found that of the 102 men listed at that time on the registry's Web site as living in the 21740 ZIP code, at least 12 sex offenders didn't live at the addresses listed for them on the registry.

This didn't surprise Paul Kozloski, manager of the Maryland Sex Offender Registry Unit, which is responsible for keeping sex offenders' reported changes of address updated.

"Everybody works hard here and statewide to keep it as accurate as possible," Kozloski said. "You're dealing with a criminal population that tries to be as evasive as possible."

As the registry notes on its Web site, the addresses of the sex offenders were provided by the registrants - the offenders - to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the agency under which the registry unit operates.

The Maryland system has received an A-plus grade from the national advocacy group Parents for Megan's Law, but that rating is based on how much information it gives the public and not on its accuracy, the Associated Press has reported.

Who must register



On Sept. 23, there were 4,284 registered sex offenders in Maryland. In the Pikesville, Md.-based registry unit, there are four - soon to be five - workers, backed up by "a very robust" information technology division, Kozloski said.

Those who are convicted of any sex crime above a fourth-degree sex offense, which is the least serious sex offense charge and involves inappropriate touching, are required upon their release from jail or prison to register their addresses and then update their registration once a year for the rest of their lives, Kozloski said.

A judge determines whether someone convicted of a fourth-degree sex offense will have to register for 10 years or more or not at all, he said.

The registry unit receives registration statements daily, either from sex offenders themselves or, in the case of child sex offenders or sexual predators, from state-designated agencies responsible for registering them.

How it works



Upon their release from jail, convicted sex offenders are required to provide their addresses and other personal information, such as Social Security numbers, for the registry.

After the initial registration, sex offenders must re-register each year on their anniversary dates, the dates on which they first registered.

They also must update their addresses within seven days after moving from a listed address.

Those who fail to re-register within seven days of their anniversaries or within seven days after moving to a new location face being charged under Maryland law.

Registrants could be charged with the misdemeanor crime, sex offender/fail to register, which "includes all aspects of the registry law itself," Washington County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Art Overcash said.

If convicted, the person faces a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to three years in prison, Overcash said.

Keeping track



There are attempts to ensure information on the registry is correct, but it is not always an easy task.

Sex offenders "are always active, it's a criminal population that is the most transient nationwide," Kozloski said.

Members of the registry unit call police when they suspect an offender no longer is living at a last known address.

In each county, state-designated police departments are responsible for forwarding to the registry unit the registry information provided by the state's child sex offenders - those who have been convicted of having sexual contact with someone younger than 18 - and sexual predators - those who are considered to be at risk of committing subsequent violent sexual offenses. In Washington County, that agency is the Sheriff's Department.

The Registry Unit is responsible for receiving registration information from sexually violent offenders - those who are convicted of a sexual crime involving an adult victim - and offenders - those who are convicted of a sex-related crime that does not require lifetime registration. Those offenders are ordered by the court to register for a period of time determined by a judge, Kozloski said.

The registry unit sends out certified mail in an effort to check the addresses of the sexually violent offenders and offenders, Kozloski said.

If the offenders don't respond to the certified mail and send in the required information, the registry calls police and attempts are made to find the registrant.

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