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updated: 6/23/2012 1:19 AM

Illinois' sex-offender fee generates little money

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Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When the Illinois Sheriffs Association pushed two years ago to raise by tenfold the annual fee law enforcement agencies charge registered sex offenders, Executive Director Greg Sullivan hoped he was about to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new statewide tracking system.

That hasn't happened.

The General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 changed state law to allow towns and counties to charge a $100 annual fee, but only a relative handful of local agencies have taken advantage.

Most agencies, Sullivan said Friday, have had enough trouble collecting the old $20 annual fee, much less 10 times that amount.

"If they're not collecting the fee now, why raise it?" he asked.

The tracking system, Offender Watch, now lacks the $450,000 a year Sullivan had hoped to raise to pay for it. The system now lacks most of the money that was intended to run it -- last year, the annual fees raised only $13,000 -- and Sullivan fears he may have to shut the new system down.

Illinois has almost 15,300 registered sex offenders, according to Tracey Newton of the Illinois State Police. About 4,400 of them are in Cook County.

The higher fee, under the new law, is divided between the local agency and the state, including $30 of every $100 collected for the new tracking system. The system, according to Sullivan and the AG's office, is far more sophisticated than other state law enforcement data systems.

But even the old standard Illinois fee of $10 -- low compared with many states -- has been seldom collected. Local agencies opt instead to allow offenders to register -- and get them into the system -- rather than turning away those who claimed they couldn't pay, according to Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

"We just found a lot of agencies that weren't collecting across the board," she said. "And they want to know where these guys are."

Streator in central Illinois became the latest town to enact the higher annual fee when the City Council agreed this week.

"If it's there, we might as well take advantage of it because we have the administrative expense of (keeping the registry) anyhow," Streator Mayor Jimmie Lansford said.

But he acknowledged many of the 50 registered sex offenders in the town of 14,000 may not be able to pay, or may just decide not to. And the law, he acknowledged, has no real punitive teeth for those who don't pay.

"We may get some money, we may not get any," Lansford said.

If Mt. Vernon in southern Illinois is any indicator, the result will likely be some, but not much.

The small town raised its annual fee at the beginning of the year and has so far collected $1,300 from its 56 registered sex offenders, police Chief Chris Mendenall said. Under the law, just under $400 of that belongs to the city, a tiny sliver of the police department's annual $5 million budget.

"Compliance isn't real high," Mendenall said.

While a lot registered sex offenders across the state never paid the $10 fee when it was the maximum, a $100 fee would be genuinely out of reach for many, according to Amy Campanelli. She oversees the Cook County Public Defender's Office suburban operations and sits on the state's Sex Offender Management Board. Convicted sex offenders' job prospects are usually dim, she said.

"For our clients, who are indigent, that's a lot of money," she said.

Sullivan is skeptical of many sex offenders' claims of indigence.

But the sheriffs association is now backing a new bill, sponsored by state Rep. Norine Hammond, a Macomb Republican, that would allow local agencies to set up payment plans for those who need them. For offenders who sign an affidavit saying they can't afford to pay, payment through community service would be an option.

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