Courts & Corrections

State Auditor says problems persist with Sex Offender Registry

Vermont’s Sex Offender Registry is still struggling to provide accurate information through its overhauled online registry, according to an audit released Wednesday.

The Auditor’s Office found errors in 11 percent of records in the registry, or 253 of 2,340 records, according to its report.

Errors range from offenders being included in the registry when they don’t meet the criteria or being omitted when they do meet the criteria. Offenders are typically placed on the registry for 10 years or for life, and many of the errors identified were related to the length of their registration.

The audit found 71 errors in records posted to the online registry. In one case a deceased offender was still listed in the registry.

The public has an expectation that the registry contains accurate information, but inaccuracies also have serious, harmful consequences for released offenders, State Auditor Doug Hoffer said.

State Auditor Doug Hoffer. Courtesy photo
State Auditor Doug Hoffer. Courtesy photo

“We don’t have to like (sex offenders) for us to respect the fact that when they get out of jail, the statutes say that certain people are supposed to be on the registry and certain people aren’t,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to be one of the people that’s mistakenly put on this registry.”

The audit follows up on a similar audit in 2010 that identified many of the same deficiencies that still plague the system, Hoffer said.

Vermont’s Sex Offender Registry is maintained by the Vermont Criminal Information Center within the Department of Public Safety and relies on information from courts and the Department of Corrections.

Jeffrey Wallin, director of the criminal information center, said he hopes that people understand how the error rate in the auditor’s report is defined.

“A listed 11 percent error rate doesn’t mean we’re missing 11 percent of offenders,” Wallin said. “It means there was a data error in 11 percent of offender records.”

The definition of an error was also created by the auditor’s office for the purpose of the report, he said.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito thanked Hoffer for looking into the registry and said his department is working to help improve the system.

“I’m pleased with the progress that the DOC has made to date and the Department will work to implement the SAO’s recommendations,” Pallito said in an email.

In February 2013, Vermont transitioned its online registry to OffenderWatch, a computer program used by many states to track sex offenders, which Pallito said will “help to streamline this process with few errors.”

Hoffer acknowledged the state’s progress, but said that the improved records system is only as good as the information fed into it. The new audit also covers errors identified in the online registry as of December 2013, almost a year after the state made the switch to OffenderWatch.

The audit is a snapshot of the offender registry, Wallin said, and problems with the new computer system were being addressed while the report was being compiled.

The audit also showed the state is not following statutory requirements to track whether sex offenders required to be are in treatment and showed some difficulty in tracking changes in offender addresses.

Responsibility for improving the registry is spread across the criminal information center, the public safety department, the courts and corrections, Hoffer said.

He suggested those parties reconvene a working group launched after the 2010 audit was released to make sure deficiencies in the registry are resolved.

Lawmakers are expected to revisit whether the state’s online registry should make public the addresses of sex offenders in the coming legislative session – a decision that’s to be based partly on whether the information is reliable.

Hoffer declined to comment on whether he believed the state should go forward with making offender’s addresses available online, saying that’s a decision for lawmakers and the administration.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Jeffrey Wallin’s name.

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Morgan True

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  • Thomas Joseph

    Doug Hoffer and the State Auditor’s staff should be commended for the important work they do. The audit completed on the sex offender registry can only be commended.

    When we elect our political leaders, we expect them to do the people’s work. Doug Hoffer not only gets the job done but sets a very high standard others can only hope to achieve.

    Well done Doug!

  • Philip Horner

    The sex offender registry punishes individuals long after they have fulfilled their obligations to the criminal justice system. The courts have so far refused to recognize this, calling registries “regulatory”. But State legislators and administrators implicitly acknowledge this fact. As State Auditor Doug Hoffer admits, “You wouldn’t want to be one of the people that’s mistakenly put on this registry.”
    Forget trying to tinker with the machinery of this ex post facto punishment. The sex offender registry should be available to law enforcement only.

    • Jason Wells

      Sex offender registries are nothing more than the failed scarlet letter campaign of the past. The key part of Philips comment is that these individuals have finished their sentence’s (not on probation or parole) and are now being subjected to more punishment above and beyond the statutory limits of the crime they have committed. In any sane persons mind this is called Double Jeopardy (being punished more than once for the same crime) which our Fed. Constitution is supposed to protect us from and our SCOTUS routinely ignores.

      There should be no Sex Offender Registry, Marijuana Registry, Gun Registry etc. Some States have already begun making registry’s of other types of criminals violent and non violent crimes. They all have one thing in common in that they morph from the Sex Offender Registries. Its also very similar to how seat belt laws become a primary offense they are sold to the public and passed as secondary then morph into primary (more revenue) on the back of some unrelated bill that no one pays attention to. The way it is going we will all be on a registry of some type for profiling in the near future. Just how do you think they knew where to go during the post Katrina gun confiscation? Yup a registry.