Ctnewsjunkie file photo
Judiciary Committee last week debating which bills to advance (Ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would allow some low-risk offenders to come off the state’s public sex offender registry – a move that proponents said would make it easier for law enforcement to focus on high-risk offenders.

SB 1113 is based on years of work by state officials including the Office of Policy and Management and the Sentencing Commission to determine effective ways of making the registry more equitable based on risk factors rather than offenses, said Robert Farr, a former legislator and a former head of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 1113: An Act Concerning The Recommendations Of The Connecticut Sentencing Commission With Respect To The Sexual Offender Registry, Petitions To Terminate Parental Rights Of Incarcerated Parents And Sentence Review

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“It’s harder for people who are on the registry to get employment and it’s harder to get housing,” Farr said. “Studies have shown that people who are homeless are five times more likely to commit a new offense.”

The bill would re-create a new sex offender registry board which would set the length of time a person could be on the registry based on their risk of re- offending and not just the offenses they committed. The board would gather risk assessment information from probation and parole officials and make a decision on the appropriate length of time a person should be on the registry, Farr said.

“There is a misconception in the public that if someone is on the registry, that means they are being supervised,” Farr said. “The reality is that the registry doesn’t supervise people, you only get arrested if you fail to verify your address.”

The proposed law would create two registries, one that is public, which would contain the information on high-risk offenders that the public can see and one that can only be seen by law enforcement, which would contain all offenders that the board deems necessary.

Offenders who are considered low-risk would be placed on the law enforcement registry, that only law enforcement can see. The bill would create three lengths of time a person would be required to be on either registry – 10 years, 20 years or for life. People are placed on the existing registry for periods of 10 years or for life. “There is nothing you can do to get off the public registry,” Farr said.

Currently, there are more than 6,000 people on the registry with 800 out of compliance, according to information supplied by Farr to the Judiciary Committee during an April 1 public hearing. Each of the state’s largest cities have more than 100 people out of compliance, making it a time consuming effort to have law enforcement track them down so they can be served with an arrest warrant charging them with failure to verify their address, Farr said.

The people who were convicted of a sex offense between 1988 to 1998, the year the most recent evolution of the registry was established, were all required to be placed on the registry – without any type of hearing – based on their offense, not on their risk level, Farr said.

The bill would give those people an opportunity to receive a hearing for the board to determine if they should still be on the registry. Others who want to be removed would have the same type of hearing. Victims would be notified and have an opportunity to provide input at the hearings.

The bill, which passed the committee on a 26-12 vote, also allows low-risk offenders to verify their address only once a year, as opposed to four times a year, which is the system in place now.

That would free up police to keep better track of high-risk offenders, Farr said. High-risk offenders would still be required to verify their address four times a year, under the bill.

What the public doesn’t realize is that about two-thirds of the people on the registry are placed on for 10 years, Farr said. “We’ve had thousands of people who are already off,” he said.

But at least one southwestern Connecticut mother isn’t convinced. Alicia Sakal told the committee in her public hearing testimony that she and her husband purposely moved to a quiet town on Candlewood Lake to avoid crime.

What she discovered years later was that a neighbor had been charged in New York with possession of child pornography – and the community wasn’t notified. “Our son would sometimes have play dates with his son, and our child was left alone with this man,” she said.

He was eventually sentenced to 10 years probation, she said. His family bought a home in a different southwestern community where he spends most of his time. But his address on state’s sex offender registry is listed as the one across the street from her on Candlewood Lake.

“On average he spends 16 to 18 hours a day in the lower Fairfield County area, where nobody in his town knows who he is or what he did,” she said. “This location is also where he can potentially do the most harm.”

Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, encouraged other committee members to read her testimony before voting on the bill. “If you have a sex offender living near you in a certain radius, how is one supposed to know that?” Smith said during deliberation on the bill.

The cost of creating the new sex offender registry board would be about $100,000 a year, Farr said. A similar bill died in committee last year because the Board of Pardons and Paroles didn’t want to oversee the administration of the board.

This time around, the state Department of Correction has agreed to provide the administrative function, Farr said.

“When every sex offender is listed on the same registry, then everybody is assumed to be high-risk, and neither law enforcement or the public has any way to distinguish high-risk from low-risk,” Farr said in his testimony to the committee. “SB 1113 makes major changes in the registry to make it more focused and useful.”