Tracking sex offenders

September 01, 2005

THE FIRST RESPONSE to recent reports that nearly one in five sex offenders in Maryland might not live where the state's registry says they do is to call for an immediate shake-up and rehab of the system. But the system may not be so broken.

The Sun recently reported that more than 800 of 4,300 offenders had addresses in question or unknown, a rate equal to that of most other states and the nation as a whole. Since then, Baltimore City and many counties have stepped up efforts to track down all registered offenders in their jurisdictions and confirm addresses - and have made great progress. The state is freeing up federal funds to help local agencies pay for more search-hours and has directed state police to do what they can to assist.

Maryland's Sex Offender Registry is a decade old and growing: There were 3,691 registered in April 2004, according to a Sun story; there are 4,290 now. Funding for localities to track them and to inform communities when new offenders arrive hasn't kept up. The federal grant money should help in this crunch, but permanent budgeting at all levels for this job is necessary.

Some in government are suggesting tougher measures against sex offense convicts, including permanent tracking anklets, in effect a lifetime sentence. This is worth debating, at least, and we expect that will happen during the 2006 legislative session.

The measured response is to ask what would save more kids: spending money to invasively track the small segment of sex offenders (who nationally have the lowest recidivism rate among all convicts) or to teach children and their families how to prevent trouble at home, where experts say 90 percent of all sex abuse occurs?

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