Bill would turn focus to high-risk sex offenders

Convicted sex offenders who are evaluated as a low risk of repeating their crime could be removed from the state’s public sex offender registry if a bill advancing through the legislature becomes law.

There are more than 6,000 people on the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry. Under existing state law, all sex offenders, regardless of the severity of their crime, are placed on the registry list for periods of either 10 years or life. There is no appeal process for removal.

When every sex offender is listed everybody is assumed to be high risk. Neither law enforcement nor the public has any way to distinguish high from low risk.

The legislative proposal, SB 1113, creates a rating system that classifies convicted sex offenders based on their future risk to public safety. The public sex-offender registry, which anyone can research on the internet, would identify the name and address of high-risk offenders. Another registry, available only to law enforcement, would contain offenders determined to be low risk to repeat their sex crimes.

Supporters say if it became law the bill would offer low-risk offenders, who face hardships finding employment and housing after serving prison time, a chance to reform their lives. Advocates argue the measure would also allow law enforcement to focus more attention on higher-risk repeat sex offenders.

Sex offenders, once caught and prosecuted, have a low rate of recidivism. The state’s Sentencing Commission 2017 study tracking the rate of repeat sex offenders found a recidivism rate was 4.1 percent over five years after the offender was released from prison.

SB 1113 is the result of several years of state research by the Office of Policy Management and the Sentencing Commission.

The legislation creates a Sexual Offender Registration Board within the Department of Correction. The nine-member board, appointed by the governor, includes a chairman; two members experienced in counseling sexual assault victims; three members with clinical experience treating sex abuse offenders; and three members experienced in sex offender supervision.

Beginning in 2020, the panel would review each convicted sexual offender case to determine how likely the offender is to repeat the crime. The board would rate each offender using risk assessment factors such as probation and parole reports.

The panel would consider any aggravating or mitigating factors involved in the crime and the impact of the crime to the victim.

Victims would be notified of the review process and could provide input that would be considered in determining the offender’s risk and registry status.

The board would determine a term for offenders on either list, of 10 years, 20 years, or life.

SB 1113 would allow those previously convicted of a sex offense and already on the registry to petition the board for review and possible removal.

The Judiciary Committee voted 26-12 on April 8 to advance the measure. Three legislators from the southeastern Connecticut delegation, representatives Christine Conley (D-Groton), Emmet Riley (D-Norwich) and Doug Dubitsky (R-Chaplin) are committee members. All three voted in favor of the measure.

“Separating out the offenders according to their risk to the public preserves the integrity of the registry and provides a better way to inform and protect the public from serious offenders,” Rep. Conley told The Day. “It is extremely important that the victims get notified and get the right to address the Sexual Offender Registration Board.”

SB 1113 improves the utility of the Sex Offender Registry by better alerting the public of potential danger from high-risk sex offenders residing in or near their neighborhood.

The bill provides a path to redemption for those sex offenders who served their time and are deemed low risk to repeat that crime. The bill also frees local police to better monitor the higher risk sex offenders.

This legislation is practical, compassionate and smart public policy. The Day urges passage of SB 1113.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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