With more than 105,000 registered sex offenders, the State of California recently took a bold step toward inserting some rationality into its sex offender registration program. Bloomberg News reported on October 10, 2017 that Governor Jerry Brown had signed legislation “that could eventually purge 90 percent of the names off California’s lifetime registry for sex offenders.” Reportedly, the law will allow “sex offenders to be removed from the registry 10 or 20 years after they serve their sentence, provided they haven’t committed another serious crime in the meantime.”
Texas De-Registration Program Has Proven Ineffective
The State of Texas has 90,000-plus sex offenders registered. The Texas Department of Public Safety has repeatedly stated since 2011 that 90 percent of these offenders do not pose any measurable risk to public safety. That’s why the Republican-dominated legislature in 2011 enacted legislation signed into law by former Gov. Rick Perry that created a pathway toward de-registration for those sex offenders who do not pose a risk to public safety.
The reasoning of the legislature at the time was expressed as far back as 2005 when former North Texas conservative Republican Lawmaker Ray Allen first introduced a bill that would have authorized a process for low-risk sex offenders to get off the Texas’s registry.
“When we first started writing sex offender notification bills in 1995 and 1997, we cast the net too wide,” the Austin Statesman quoted Allen as saying. “There was a lot of concern there were a lot of sex offenders out there preying on children. We now have more than 85,000 people on the registry. And the reality is we have probably only four-to-five thousand dangerous sex offenders and a whole lot of other folks who were drunk or stupid or misguided who are very unlikely to commit future sex crimes … you’re creating a very large legal forest for the 5,000 (high-risk offenders) to hide in. A list where 90 percent won’t commit another crime is not very useful to the public.”
De-Registration Cumbersome, Only 85 People De-Registered
California may have learned from Texas failed de-registration experiment. The Statesman reported last year that as of June 2016, only 58 offenders out of the roughly 80,000 non-dangerous offenders on Texas’ registry had managed to deregister. The deregistration process is so cumbersome and fraught with so many obstacles that most non-dangerous offenders do not even apply for deregistration.
The website, Texas Sex Offender DeRegistration, outlines the three-step process that a registered sex offender must traverse to secure deregistration. The requirements of each step are listed below:
- Step One – 1) secure an Initial Eligibility Checklist form that has several page; 2) complete the questionnaire on the Checklist form; and 3) follow explicitly the instructions spelled out in the form. Those instructions are: a) applicant must obtain his/her criminal histories from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI; b) the applicant must provide information about his/her offense, “like a probable cause affidavit”; c) the applicant, after gathering all this information, must “mail [the] application along with the Application Fee to the Council on Sex Offender Treatment; and d) the applicant must be prepared to wait a “few weeks” before the Council will inform him/her by letter whether they can deregister.
- Step Two – If permission to deregister is secured, the applicant must then “contact a deregistration specialist and schedule a deregistration evaluation.” This evaluation process can be accomplished in one of two ways: a) the applicant can call the Council on Sex Offender Treatment and request a list of 22 approved deregistration specialists in the State of Texas; or b) contact the doctor who has trained all the deregistration specialists requesting evaluation by this doctor. Upon completion of the deregistration evaluation, which is similar to going through a sex offender treatment program, the specialist sends a report to the Council on Sex Offender Treatment which reviews it before sending a copy of the report to the applicant or his/her attorney.
- Step Three – If the deregistration specialist determines the applicant meets “the criteria to deregister,” the applicant must petition the court of conviction requesting that he or she “be released from the registry.” If the judge signs an order approving deregistration, the applicant must send that court order to the Department of Public Safety who will then remove the applicant from its registry.
Most registered sex offenders do not have either the practical skills to navigate through this process or the resources to hire an attorney to assist them in doing so.
Cost of Sex Offender Registration Prohibitive and Unnecessary
Whether California will erect a similar process that is as difficult to hurdle remains to be seen. But the state, like Texas, has reached the conclusion that the costs of sex offender registration is not only cost prohibitive but is totally unnecessary for most of its convicted sex offenders. Megan McArdle, who wrote the Bloomberg piece, put it this way:
“This is how we have ended up with the absurdities of the sex offender registries. In which teenaged boys who slept with their underage girlfriends can be required to spend years of their life (perhaps all the years of their life), fending off revolted stares from neighbors who think they’re child molesters. In which men have to sleep under bridges because there is no abode in the county that is far enough from a child for them to legally take residence. In which work, marriage, travel or even a roof over your head become near-impossible dreams for anyone ever convicted of any sexual offense – and you may even be liable for these penalties if you are accused of exploiting … yourself.”
Most people see sex offenders through the harsh, narrow lens of “child molester.” That is simply not the case with most registered sex offenders in Texas or California. These two states alone account for more than 200,000 of the nation’s 700,000-plus registered sex offenders. At least they both now have begun pathways to de-registration. Hopefully, California will teach Texas a lesson and cause the Lone Star State to reconsider its program of de-registration…