Colorado bench rules registry punishes offenders beyond sentences they serve

  • 6014651_web1_wht_localNews_logo-copy.jpg

HILO — Proponents of sex offender registries cite public protection and deterrence of repeat sex offenses as justification for sex offender registries that publish the offenders’ names, photographs, home addresses and information about their past convictions.

ADVERTISING

HILO — Proponents of sex offender registries cite public protection and deterrence of repeat sex offenses as justification for sex offender registries that publish the offenders’ names, photographs, home addresses and information about their past convictions.

But an Aug. 31 ruling by a federal judge in Denver could, at some point, have implications for how state sex offender registries operate nationwide.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled in favor of three sex offenders who sued the state of Colorado, claiming the requirement they register as sex offenders opened then to “cruel and unusual punishment” by the public and restrictions on their ability to find work or homes long after completing prison or probation and parole sentences.

Matsch said that state’s registry exposes “the registrants to punishments inflicted not by the state but by their fellow citizens.”

The ruling will likely be appealed by the state to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, but if it’s upheld by the appellate court, the case could be cited as a precedent in other states, as well.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said that the ruling doesn’t question the constitutionality of the registry as a whole, and she’s “committed to having a robust sex offender registry … that protects the public.”

Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said Thursday he’s aware of the ruling but hasn’t yet read it. On the subject of Hawaii’s sex offender registry, Roth echoed Coffman’s sentiments.

“First, you have the protective factor for people who are living in those communities so they know where (convicted sex offenders live) and second, as a deterrence, so people don’t (commit sex offenses),” Roth said, and added the registry is effective “to a certain degree, on both counts.”

“Is it completely effective? Absolutely not. But there are certain degrees of success on each of those factors. But I don’t think it’s an end all, be all,” he said.

The likelihood of subsequent sexual offenses by convicted sex offenders is a reason often cited to justify public registries of sex offenders — which is something not done with other types of offenders, including convicted murderers.

The October 2016 study “Scorecard Report: Dashboard Indicators and Trends” examined recidivism rates for individuals statewide convicted of sex offenses, drug crimes and domestic violence in the fiscal years 2010-2014.

The report, prepared by the Department of the Attorney General’s Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division Research and Statistics Branch, found a lower re-arrest rate for sex offenders than those convicted of drug offenses and domestic violence.

More specifically, convicted sex offenders showed a total recidivism rate — which means a re-arrest for any crime, not just a sex offense — of 30.3 percent, with the re-arrest rate for crimes other than sex offenses at 28.7 percent and a sex offense re-arrest rate at 1.6 percent.

In comparison, convicted substance abuse offenders had a total recidivism rate of 55.7 percent, with the re-arrest rate for non-drug-related offenses at 46.6 percent and a drug-related re-arrest rate of 9.1 percent.

The total recidivism rate for domestic violence offenders was 51.6 percent, with the re-arrest rate for offenses other than domestic violence at 41.1 percent and a domestic violence re-arrest rate of 10.5 percent.

Roth described the low re-arrest rate for sex offenders as “great” — citing the 50 percent recidivism rates often quoted for all offenders — and said the added scrutiny sex offenders receive because of the registry is likely a contributing factor.

“I’m guessing that part of that is the sex offender registry, but I realize that there are other factors that play into that, as well, such as treatment,” he said. “And people who are put in prison, for those offenses, often are gone for a long time, too. There’s a lot of variables that come into play. But I would say there is a definite deterrent effect, as well as a protective effect for the community.”

State Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said figures she obtained from the department’s Sex Offender Treatment Program indicate “despite widespread belief” that sex offenders as a group have about a 5 percent recidivism rate for subsequent sex offenses.

As for the deterrent factor for the sex offender registry, Schwartz said studies from Minnesota and Colorado “did not find evidence that the registry provides a deterrent.”

The registries have, however, proved helpful to law enforcement, she noted.

“States have found that the registry has helped in solving new sex crimes,” Schwartz said. “In Washington, they found that it helped them solve new sex crimes in half the time.”

ADVERTISING

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.