Judge Robert Devlin (CT-N file photo)

The proposal to move some people off the state’s sex offender registry is going to be a “heavy lift,” according to members of the state Sentencing Commission.

But members said it should lead to greater public safety by allowing police to focus on high-risk registrants instead of continually monitoring people who no longer pose a threat.

“With the volume of people on the registry, it dilutes their (law enforcement’s) ability to zero in on potential risks,” attorney Jennifer Zito, a member of the commission, said. “It also does a disservice to the public because they assume everyone on the registry is dangerous and that creates hysteria.”

Zito and other subcommittee members held their first discussion of two proposals to provide a path for removal from the registry during a meeting Thursday afternoon. The proposals will be shaped over the coming months before being voted on by the full Sentencing Commission and if passed, presented as possible legislation.

Connecticut is one of a few states that doesn’t provide a way for individuals to get off the sex offender registry, even for those who were convicted prior to its creation. The legislature required the Sentencing Commission in 2015 to research and develop proposals for reforming state policies regarding sex offenders. The commission issued a report in 2017 that detailed several proposals. 

The commission has focused on a hearing process or at least a way to move certain people from the public registry to the law enforcement registry which can’t be accessed by ordinary citizens. So far, attempts to get legislative approval have been unsuccessful. 

Lawmakers and the public would have to be educated in the benefits of providing a way off of the registry, several subcommittee members said.

“This is a difficult sell to any legislator who doesn’t want to be perceived as soft on sex offenders,” said John Santa, the vice chair of the Sentencing Commission who chairs the subcommittee.

Draft documents point out that the registry doesn’t provide incentives for good behavior and often penalizes people who have served their time and haven’t reoffended by making it harder to get employment and housing.

The proposals discussed by the subcommittee Thursday were pared-down versions of previous legislation that didn’t make it out of the Judiciary Committee. 

Under the first proposal, registrants would be allowed to petition the Superior Court to be removed from the public registry after 10 years. The court would hold a hearing for victims and prosecutors to provide input and the registrant would have to prove that they met all the requirements of their probation or parole and treatment during their time on the registry.

This option would allow people a means to be moved from the public registry completely or moved to the law enforcement registry, which can only be accessed by police and other criminal justice officials. The registrant and the state’s attorney would have the right to appeal the court’s decision.

The proposal also would expand the court’s authority to exempt registration requirements for people convicted of misdemeanors, the draft document said.

A second proposal would allow people who were “grandfathered” onto the registry when it was created in 1998 to seek a hearing to be removed. This group of people was automatically placed on the registry even though when they were convicted or pleaded guilty, it didn’t exist.

It would also allow those who were placed on the registry after June 2022 to request removal after they have been on the registry for 10 years. But as written now, individuals placed on the registry between 1998 and next year can only seek removal to the law enforcement registry.

The reason for that restriction on individuals convicted and placed on the registry after 1998 is to uphold the convictions as victims understood them, according to Judge Robert Devlin, a member of the Commission.

Devlin conceded that even the second proposal is going to be difficult to achieve and he was concerned about losing the support of victims’ groups if the possibility of complete removal from the registry for those convicted after 1998 was on the table.

But Santa pointed out that reforming the registry is still the right course of action. “As you said Judge Devlin, it’s a heavy lift,” Santa said. “But that doesn’t make it any less of a benefit to the safety of the residents of Connecticut.”