With the recent of arrest of two sex offenders with Morgan ties, public interest in the state’s sex offender registry has piqued. However, the registry should be used carefully, county and state officials say.
“My office will aggressively prosecute all sex offenders who fail in any way to abide by the rules they have due to their status as sex offenders,” Morgan County Attorney Jann Farris said. “But the public should never put their personal security fully in the hands of government. They have a responsibility and the right to protect themselves and their families. The state provides the sex offender registry as a resource for citizens who choose to keep themselves informed of potential hazards to themselves and their families.”
He is referring to SONAR (Sex and Kidnap Offender Notification and Registry), a website maintained by the Utah Department of Corrections at corrections.utah.gov.
Stephen Gehrke, public information officer with the Utah Department of Corrections, calls the online sex offender registry a “method of notifying the public,” and “one of many tools in our belt as a society to protect public safety.”
Information available on the registry
Utah residents who have been convicted of certain offenses are required by Utah law to register their personal information with the state and local law enforcement. Offenses include kidnapping; enticing a minor; various forms of sexual abuse and exploitation; lewdness; human trafficking; and voyeurism.
An offender must register much personal information such as names, aliases, a current photo, addresses, schools they are attending, and make and model of car. Although they also register other details such as places of employment and social security number, these are not made available to the general public via the website. However, law enforcement and other officials are able to access all the information.
Conduct expected of offenders
Although it is easy to identify offenders using the registry, the exact conduct expected of each offender is not as clear.
Offenders on probation or parole are “supervised and held to a higher standard of rules than a general member of the public,” according to the Utah Department of Corrections. Although each offender has their own terms of probation or parole that is considered private information, usually standard conditions apply to each offender listed on the registry.
Standard conditions of probation and parole include: not associating with those involved in criminal activity or who have been convicted of a felony; abstaining from use, possession, control, delivery, production, manufacturing, and distribution of a control substance; submitting to drug tests; obeying all state, federal and municipal laws; submitting a DNA specimen; obtaining and maintaining verifiable, lawful, full-time employment; residing at a residence of record with the probation/parole officer and not moving without first obtaining permission; not leaving the state without permission from the probation/parole officer; allowing probation/parole officers to search residence, vehicle or any property of the offender without a warrant; paying a monthly $30 supervision fee; cooperating with probation/parole officers; notifying the probation/parole officer within 48 hours of being arrested, cited or questioned by a peace officer; permitting visits from the probation/parole officer to the offender’s residence or place of employment; and not possessing weapons, explosives or firearms.
On top of the standard conditions, special probation/parole conditions apply for sex offenses involving an adult, including: participating in sex offender therapy; keeping progressive curfews or electronic monitoring; having no direct or indirect contact with victims; not possessing material such as computer programs, pictures, drawings and magazines that act as a sexual stimulus or depicts nudity or sex acts; submitting to random polygraph examinations; approving employment with a parole officer; and complying with sex offender registration.
Those with sexual offenses against a minor have to keep the same special probation/parole conditions as those with offenses involving an adult, as well as: not contacting or associating with children under the age of 18; not dating people with children under the age of 18; not entering places or events were children congregate including schools, playgrounds, parks, arcades, parties, family functions, holiday festivities, or any place children are present or expected to be present; and not possessing items designed to entertain, lure, or attract the attention of children.
“Any special conditions that are placed on an offender in addition to these standard conditions are administered on a case-by-case, as needed basis,” Gehrke said. “An individual offenders’ special conditions are considered private information.”
When an offender no longer appears on the registry, or their registration term expires, they are no longer held to these “higher standards.” Many offenders have a 10-year registration term, which begins once the individual completes probation or parole.
“If they complete prison and are terminated or expirated and do not have a parole term attached, then the 10 years begins ticking the day the offender is released from prison,” Gehrke said. “The registration period can be extended if an offender does not comply with the registry rules.”
Gehrke said some offenders, especially repeat offenders, have registration terms that last for life, so the requirement to live under the higher standards would never expire.
Misuse of the registry
Parents and residents in general can use the registry to keep their community safe.
“The registry can be an important tool to inform us of our surroundings, and to help us educate our children about potential harm,” Gehrke said. “It can help protect the community from additional crimes, particularly against sex offenses since they are heinous crimes and tend to carry painful, lasting impacts on victims and their loved ones.”
However, officials warn against misuse of the registry.
Disclosures on registry website note that the information “does not imply listed individuals will commit a specific type of crime in the future, nor does it imply that if a future crime is committed by a listed individual what the nature of that crime may be,” and that it does not represent any offender’s likelihood of re-offending.
“We should be cognizant as a community that these individuals have served, or are continuing to serve, a punishment for their crimes,” Gehrke said. “Rather than categorically stigmatize everyone on the registry indefinitely and make it impossible for them to become productive members of society, we should take into account that many different offenses with ranging severity are represented on the registry and many are sincerely trying to establish productive, crime-free lifestyles.”
The public cannot use the registry to harass, stalk or threaten offenders or members of their families. Doing so would violate Utah criminal laws.
“We would not advise taking the law into one’s own hands or using the sex offender registry as a tool to harass or intimidate registered offenders,” Gehrke said. “Still, the public should feel encouraged to report problems or suspicious activity to local law enforcement.”
Effective registry use
Law enforcement encourages the public to remain aware of the sex offenders in their area and report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.
If you believe that information on the registry website is incorrect, contact the Utah Department of Corrections, Sex Offender Registration Program at 801-495-7700, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The registry can be a useful tool, but it should not be seen as the be-all, end-all of crime prevention. Society should be aware that the registry includes only offenders who have been apprehended, charged and convicted for crimes. There may be others in our community who are yet to offend, or who have offended but have not been reported, or have not been prosecuted,” Gehrke said. “We should continue to use common sense and remain aware of what’s going on around us.”
“Some citizens would rather believe that bad things never happen in their town or to good people and take the ostrich approach and bury their head in the sand,” he said. “Others are more vigilant and proactive in their approach to protecting themselves and their families. I would hope that citizens would use the resources made available to them to keep the entire community safe.”