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Review of the Department of Justice’s Implementation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

December 2008:


This report examines the Department of Justice’s (Department) implementation of Title I of the Adam Walsh Act, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which sets forth specific responsibilities for the Department in identifying, arresting, and prosecuting sex offenders who have failed to register or update a registration.1 Sex offenders who do not register or update registrations are considered non-compliant and are subject to prosecution under SORNA when federal jurisdiction can be established. When a warrant is issued for a non-compliant sex offender, the subject is referred to as a fugitive sex offender. Records on convicted, non-compliant, and fugitive sex offenders are maintained within the national sex offender registration system.

The national sex offender registration system is composed of two registries operated by different Department components. One is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR), which is part of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). NCIC is an information system that provides law enforcement agencies with around-the-clock access to federal, state, and local crime data, including criminal record histories and wanted and missing person records. The other is the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry Website (NSOPR), which is an online portal linked to all states’ sex offender public registries. Using NSOPR, members of the public can access information on sex offenders in any of the states’ public registries. The information in both the FBI’s NSOR and OJP’s NSOPR portal is provided by the states, territories, federally recognized Indian tribes, and the District of Columbia (collectively referred to in this report as “jurisdictions”). The inclusion, accuracy, and integrity of the data are ultimately the responsibility of those jurisdictions.

At the state level, sex offender registration requirements and penalties for failing to register vary by jurisdiction, and the requirements for maintaining a registration are based on the nature of an offender’s crime and on state law. At the federal level, records of three categories of sex offenders are included in the FBI’s NSOR: individuals convicted of criminal offenses against minors, individuals convicted of sexually violent offenses, and individuals who are designated as sexually violent predators.

SORNA requires convicted state and federal sex offenders to register within 3 business days in the states in which they will live, work, and attend school after being released from incarceration or, in cases in which there is no term of incarceration, within 3 days of being sentenced. Once registered, convicted sex offenders are required to verify their registration information periodically with jurisdiction authorities. The jurisdiction registration authorities are also required to alert the FBI when they receive new or updated registration information. Absent an extension, state, territorial, and tribal jurisdictions must implement SORNA requirements by July 27, 2009 – 3 years after the date of SORNA’s enactment. The Department’s only mechanism for enforcing state and territorial compliance with SORNA requirements is to reduce the grant funding the Department provides by 10 percent. The sanction for a tribe is that the authority and responsibility for implementing SORNA are transferred from the tribe to the state in which the reservation is located.

At the federal level, the responsibility for implementing various elements of SORNA is assigned to several Department components. Two units within OJP, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART Office), are responsible for implementing the required changes to the NSOPR portal and assisting jurisdictions with required enhancements to their registries. The FBI is responsible for maintaining the National Sex Offender Registry. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) has been designated by the Department as the lead federal agency for investigating non-compliant and fugitive sex offenders and for assisting states in enforcing their registration requirements. U.S. Attorneys’ Offices can pursue charges against sex offenders who are not in compliance with registration requirements resulting from prior federal convictions. They can also pursue charges against sex offenders who are not in compliance with registration requirements resulting from state convictions if those offenders travel in interstate or foreign commerce. The Department’s Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section assists federal attorneys with prosecutions of fugitive sex offenders.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to assess the Department’s efforts to implement SORNA requirements and to assess whether those efforts have increased the number of fugitive sex offenders investigated, arrested, and prosecuted by the Department. In this review, we analyzed law enforcement and sex offender registration data from January through March 2008. We also examined trends in fugitive sex offender investigations, arrests, and prosecutions during fiscal year (FY) 2004 through FY 2007, and conducted interviews at the Department components involved with implementation of SORNA.

Our report examines three aspects of the Department’s implementation of SORNA. First, although the Department did not issue guidance to the components on implementing specific SORNA requirements, we found that the components have begun to address each of the requirements but have yet to fully implement all of them. For example, the Department is still working to track sex offenders entering and leaving the country and to enhance the Department’s Project Safe Childhood initiative to combat the proliferation of crimes against children, including Internet-based crimes. Based on the progress to date, we believe the Department components are on track to complete the specific tasks they are assigned under SORNA by July 2009. But despite the Department’s assistance to state, territorial, and tribal jurisdictions in implementing SORNA, we believe the jurisdictions will not fulfill their SORNA requirements by July 2009.

Second, we found that information in the national sex offender registries is incomplete and inaccurate and therefore the registries are not reliable tools for law enforcement and the public. For example, we found that registries were missing records, did not always identify known fugitives, and did not always contain sufficient information to enable law enforcement and the public to accurately identify sex offenders.

Third, although implementation of SORNA is not yet complete, we found that the USMS has increased federal investigations and arrests of fugitive sex offenders and has increased assistance to state agencies with fugitive sex offender investigations and arrests.

The following sections of this Executive Digest describe our findings in the above three areas in more detail:

For the remainder of this study: Prepared by U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Evaluation and Inspections Division

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