Sex offender registry still not in federal compliance
Despite major efforts last year by Maryland lawmakers to get tough on sex offenders and expand the offender registry, the state still is not in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, a public safety official told senators today.
Noncompliance could cost the state more than half a million dollars in federal grant money for law enforcement agencies.
In the wake of the December 2009 killing of an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl who'd been in contact with a registered sex offender, lawmakers last year made reform of the part of the criminal code a priority. Gov. Martin O'Malley pushed a package of bills that included revamping the registry -- a move that lawmakers believed would bring them into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act.
Changes included adding the names of those who commit sexually motivated acts of indecent exposure or possess child pornography and requiring people who list themselves as "homeless" to provide more information about where they are living. The registry includes nearly 7,000 people now.
The problem, said David P. Wolinski, who administers the registry, is that Maryland does not require lifetime registration of juveniles convicted of the most serious sex crimes, a necessity under the Adam Walsh Act.
"That's the one hang up," Wolinski told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "Otherwise everything else is fine. We've made a lot of progress."
Only about four states are in compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, Wolinksi said. Still, Maryland's failure to meet its strict standards means the state is set to lose about 10 percent of federal public safety money known as the Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program. The state received about $6 million in Byrne money last fiscal year, according to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which distributes grant money.
Otherwise, Wolinski said, the registry expansion is "going well." Within a month, corrections officials will begin adding a "plain-language" description of the crime for which each offender was convicted, another requirement signed into law last year.
Fewer than 500 of the registrants -- about 6.7 percent -- are listed as "noncompliant" or "absconders," according to data distributed by Wolinski.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the General Assembly might take another look at the registry this year, but this time with an eye toward removing some kinds of low-level offenders. No bills concerning the registry have been introduced yet this year.