ELSEWHERE: How Nebraska monitors sex offenders

(U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska’s sex offender registry list is supposed to help law enforcement and the public know when and where sex offenders live in their areas. But some Nebraska sex offenders claim homes at Interstate rest stops and nonexistent locations, and other legitimate addresses that may not house sex offenders anymore — if they ever did. Before leaving law enforcement custody, the state requires sex offenders to register their addresses, which are compiled in an online database available for public viewing. In many cases, some sex offenders write down false addresses, particularly when re-registering without law enforcement supervision. In response, a newly passed state law will crack down on these cases, mandating lifetime supervision for repeat sex offenders and those charged with first-degree sexual assault. Also among the provisions, the law — signed on April 13 by Gov. Dave Heineman — increases penalties for sex offenders who fail to register or anyone who assaults a child. And while the specifics of how the state will implement lifetime supervision of sex offenders has yet to be determined, the law will go into effect on July 15. In the past, law enforcement officers haven’t really enforced supervision of sex offenders, said Sen. Patrick Bourne of Omaha, who was one of the key drafters of the law. “Before, sex offenders wrote down their address, but no one ever checked to see if the criminals really lived there,” Bourne said. Under the new law, sex offenders who fail to register could be charged with a Class IV felony, which could mean at least five years in jail. Each time a sex offender re-registers, law enforcement officials send letters to residents of the offender’s new neighborhood or community, local daycares, schools and the attorney general. Shannon Black, clinical director of the Nebraska State Patrol Sex Offender Registry, said the letters let communities know when a sex offender is in the area or moving to it. If sex offenders change addresses, they need to report it within five business days. Sex offenders who move to Nebraska from out of state also must register if they are working or attending school within state lines, she said. However, registration procedures can vary depending on the crime, Black said. Nebraska State Patrol requests annual address verifications for some high-risk sex offenders, and some offenders might be required to register for life. Sex offenders who commit a first-degree sexual assault — involving forcible penetration — must continue to register their address for 10 years following their release from custody, she said. With a low non-compliance rate, the state’s registration process has, so far, been successful in collecting addresses, Black said. “Our non-compliance rate is about 5 percent,” she said. “Generally, 5 to 7 percent are not reporting new addresses.” But registration is the first step in the process of watching offenders for the rest of their lives in Nebraska — the second step is physically monitoring the offenders. Nebraska’s Office of Parole Administration is in charge of supervising the offenders, said Jim McKenzie, adult parole administrator with the department of correctional services. McKenzie said his department has been researching lifetime supervision policies of other states and cities to learn what would be most efficient in Nebraska. Enforcement officers will use the information, he said, when drafting Nebraska’s procedures for implementing lifetime supervision of sex offenders in July. Procedures could include increasing how often parole officers check in with sex offenders, as the constant communication would let officers determine whether past offenders should be admitted into a rehabilitation center, he said. Officers also determine if sex offenders need substance abuse treatment or if they are still a risk to society. Currently, parole officers are physically monitoring seven sex offenders within Nebraska as part of their sentencing agreement, McKenzie said. But that number could dramatically increase once the lifetime supervision law is implemented. The law provides the funding for officers to check when offenders move or get new jobs, and monitor how they interact with their community. Lifetime supervision is the best way to track sex offenders, McKenzie said. “The only way they would leave lifetime supervision is through death or move to another state,” he said. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said knowing where certain offenders are throughout their lives is a key component to statewide safety. The law will allow officers in the state’s correctional services department to more efficiently monitor, Bruning said, because they can draft the procedures themselves. “It will make Nebraska seem substantially safer for many people,” he said. “Sex offenders don’t have curable means to stop their urges and constant monitoring will help offenders to deal with (their) urges.” Each budget year, the state will have to reallocate funding of the agencies implementing the law, Bruning said, but it’s a reasonable expenditure to maintain safety. Lifetime surveillance also would ensure that offenders are registering accurately, McKenzie said. Correct registration data and having a permanent eye on sex offenders is a key policy in keeping Nebraskans safe, said Sen. Pam Redfield of Omaha. “Registration does not include a wink and telling someone false information,” Redfield said. “This is very serious to know all the elements are true and where the sex offenders really are.”

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