As of September 1, 2017, the State of Texas had 90,616 registered sex offenders.


Sex offender registration has been around a long time in Texas—since 1991, in fact. The state legislature has continually amended or tweaked these programs ever since. For example, the legislature mandated that the public be notified about registered sex offenders in 1995 following the 1993 abduction/murder of seven-year-old Ashley Estell in Plano, Texas.


Sex Offender Registration Program


In 2005, the state legislature enacted the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program (SORP) {Chapter 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure} which requires all adult and juvenile sex offenders to register with the local law enforcement authority in the city/town in which they reside or with the sheriff’s department in the county in which they reside. The offender must provide the following information:


  • Name and address;
  • Color photograph;
  • The offense of conviction or adjudication;
  • Address of residence;
  • Home, mobile, and employment phone numbers;
  • Height, weight, hair color, race, gender, eye color, and shoe size;
  • Social security and driver’s license numbers;
  • Each alias ever used by offender;
  • Complete set of offender’s fingerprints; and
  • Nature of original sex offense conviction, date of conviction, age of victim, and punishment received.


All required sex offender information must be kept current and the offender must comply with all the conditions of registration. Failure to fully comply with sex offender registration requirements can result in a felony prosecution. Depending on the initial conviction that required registration, the punishment can range from 6 months in a state jail facility to 20 years in prison.


21 State Employees Assigned to Manage Registry


Last year the Austin Statesman reported that in 2006—less than a year after SORP was created—the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) had ten employees assigned to manage the state’s sex offender registry at a cost of $343,000. By the end of 2015, the department had 21 employees assigned at a cost of roughly $1.3 million. The department adds, according to the Statesman, approximately five new offenders each day, steadily increasing the management costs.


In 2006, Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Act (AWA) that created three tiers of sex offender registration for all adults and juveniles convicted of a sex offense: Tier I offenders are required to register 10-15 years; Tier II offenders must register for 25 years; and Tier III offenders face registration from a minimum of 25 years to life.


The AWA is a severe approach to dealing with sex offenders. It imposes a rigid management mandate on the states that limits their ability to establish rehabilitation programs for their sex offenders. Long before the AWA, many states, like Texas, had their own sex offender registration requirements and they resented the Congress with the AWA telling them how to handle their own sex offenders.


States Must Comply with Federal Requirements or Face Loss of Funds


To force compliance with the AWA, Congress through the U.S. Justice Department told the states they would loss 10 percent of federal criminal justice grants if they did not implement the AWA by July 2011. That year Texas stood to lose roughly $2 million in grants but faced a staggering price tag of $38 million just to implement the AWA the way the Justice Department proscribed.


Texas lawmakers, including some highly credentialed Republicans, rebelled; in effect, the State told the Justice Department to keep their grant money; that the state would continue to use its 2005 law to supervise its sex offenders in their local communities.


In 2006, the primary difference between SORP and the AWA was this: most Texas lawmakers, as does DPS to this day, believed that 90 percent of its registered sex offenders were non-dangerous and could live in the community without posing a risk to public safety while the AWA is offense-driven without any concern for individual rehabilitation. For example, under the AWA, if a person commits a Tier I, II or III offense, they will remain under registration for the proscribed period under each tier without any regard to their rehabilitation or non-dangerousness.


In fact, in 2005, the Statesman reported that former North Texas conservative Republican Lawmaker Ray Allen introduced a bill that would have authorized a process for low-risk sex offenders to get off the Texas [registration] list.


Small Percentage of Sex Offenders on List are Dangerous


“When we first started writing sex offender notification bills in 1995 and 1997, we cast the net too wide,” the 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 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.”


Texas’ “Romeo and Juliet” Law


The AWA stands for the exact opposite. For example, the AWA requires juveniles convicted, or adjudicated as delinquent in juvenile court, who are 14 years of age or older and who have been convicted of an offense either more serious or similar to federal aggravated sexual assault to register as a sex offender.


In 2011, the Texas Legislature pushed back hard on this AWA requirement when it enacted, as have other states, its “Romeo and Juliet” law. This law allows a person under 17 to avoid sex offender registration, and the horrific consequences attached to it, if the person is involved with someone who is at least 15, and not more than four years younger. For example, before Romeo and Juliet, an 18-year-old could have been convicted of sexual assault and required to register as a sex offender for having consensual sex with 16-year-old boy or girlfriend. The AWA would have required that the 18-year-old register as a Tier I offender. That is not the case under Texas’ SORP.


Deregistration in Texas Difficult in Texas



Also, in 2011, the Texas Legislature finally created a de-registration process that was intended to allow many in that 90-percent non-dangerous category to be removed from the state’s sex offender registry. However, the Statesman reported that as of June of last year, only 58 offenders out of the roughly 80,000 non-dangerous offenders had managed to de-register. The de-registration process is so cumbersome and fraught with so many unreasonable obstacles that most non-dangerous offenders do not even apply for de-registration.


Big Cities Have Big Numbers of Sex Offenders


In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the city of Houston faces a crisis with its more than 5100 registered sex offenders. The Statesman reported that the Houston Police Department has 14 employees—10 of whom do nothing else—to manage those 5000-plus offenders. These officers are now needed elsewhere to combat the crime increase that inevitably accompanies natural disasters. Instead, we assume, these ten full-time employees will continue to monitor those 5000-plus sex offenders, 4500 of whom, according to DPS, do not pose a risk to public safety.


Society has an absolute right to protect itself from violent or serial child predators. That discussion is not even open to debate. What is open to debate is the staggering amount of money and resources being poured into a program in which 90 percent of its participants do not belong. The citizens of Houston, and its police department, are going to suffer because fiscal resources and manpower are now being wasted on this program.