County workers shun new sex offender rules
Kane County officials may lead a politically hazardous local push against a federal law that would make Illinois' sex offender registration laws more stringent while also pulling the state in line with the rest of the country.
Employees from the county's court services department urged county board members to lobby against pending state legislation to bring Illinois in compliance with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006. The idea behind the law is to create a more vigilant tracking system of convicted sex offenders that will give law enforcement more tools to apprehend the offenders if they disappear after their release from prison.
Every state was to comply with the law by July 2011. Only 14 states are in compliance.
A pending bill in the Illinois General Assembly would add Illinois to that list. Illinois Senate Bill 1040 would create a three-tiered system for sex offender registration.
Under the proposal, even misdemeanor sex offenders would have to register every year for 15 years. Felony sex offenders would have to register every six months for 25 years or every three months for the rest of their lives depending on the severity of the crime.
Registration would include fresh fingerprints and palm printing, as well as an updated photo for law enforcement. All sex offenders would face possible reclassification under the three-tiered system regardless of how old their offense is.
But some of the groups charged with administration and enforcement of the proposed three-tiered system say the federal law, and Illinois' proposals to comply with it, are deeply flawed.
Organizations like the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers said there is no scientific research supporting sex offender registration as a successful method to reduce future sex crimes by past offenders.
Employees from Kane County's Court Services Department joined that outcry Monday, particularly in regards to how the pending change would affect juvenile sex offenders.
Chris Starkovich, special programs supervisor for the court services department, said juvenile offenders will lose their ability to keep their offenses private and start adulthood with clean slates. Many juvenile sex offenders who receive court supervision will wind up on the public sex offender list for the first time, he said.
"This changes the ballgame big time for these minors," Starkovich said. "We would not want to support that. It flies in the face of the juvenile court's philosophy of rehabilitation."
Missing or being late for even one required re-registration can result in being charged with a felony offense. That would automatically trigger biannual or quarterly sex offender registration for the next 25 years to life, Starkovich said.
Violating a required registration can happen as easily as going out of town for three or more days without filing a detailed itinerary with police, driving a relative's vehicle without telling police, or getting a new phone or email address and not notifying police.
Local police and sheriff's deputies will also find themselves driving out to sex offenders' homes to verify residency up to four times as often as they do now, county staff members said. There is no additional money proposed to help counties or local communities perform the additional registration tasks.
But reaching federal compliance also carries a price tag. States failing to comply with the Adam Walsh law lose 10 percent of the money they now receive from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program.
That money can be used by states and local communities for a variety of law enforcement needs. Illinois receives one of the largest allocations of that grant money every year. The state received nearly $19 million from the program in fiscal year 2010.
Kane is like many counties in Illinois in that it doesn't typically receive a direct cut of that cash. However, Kane County is required to work in cooperation with Elgin and Aurora for sex registration efforts. Those two cities most recently received grants with a combined total of about $111,000 from the program.
State Rep. Dennis Reboletti said Illinois would lose about $1 million in federal grant money each year it fails to comply with the Adam Walsh law. The Addison Rebublican sponsored the House version of the pending Senate bill.
"The big-picture perspective is we need to be able to track down these people with more precision than what we do now," Reboletti said. "I'm a former prosecutor, and I've seen the devastation that has been done to child victims. These individuals are evil. They need to be tracked."
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