Bump calls for enhanced data sharing to improve sex offender oversight
BOSTON — An audit released this week by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump found that as of February 2017, the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) did not have a current address for 1,769 convicted sex offenders, of which 936 had never been classified.
The failure to classify these 936 offenders means that members of the public had no way of determining if an individual who posed a significant risk of reoffending lived in their communities, nor did the public have access to critical information about these offenders, such as their names, photographs, registration status, and offenses, which the law requires be included in the registry.
Section 178F of Chapter 6 of the Massachusetts General Laws requires SORB to obtain violators’ addresses from executive-branch agencies such as the Department of Revenue (DOR) and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) “when there is reason to believe a sex offender required to register has not so registered.” Bump’s audit found that despite having agreements with the DOR and DTA to share data for the purpose of confirming sex offender addresses, SORB was not conducting these verifications. An analysis by Bump’s office using just one of the executive branch databases available to SORB found 39 sex offenders who were in violation of registration requirements that collected public benefits in Massachusetts from DTA. In the audit, SORB indicates its intentions to utilize its existing data-sharing agreements with DOR and DTA, and explore opportunities to build similar agreements with other state government agencies.
“When government commits to the taxpayers that it will provide a certain level of safety – and transparency – it has an obligation to do everything within its authority to meet that obligation. As technology and data collection continue to change and improve, our state agencies have an opportunity to utilize that change to break down the silos that have historically existed in government,” said Bump. “In this case, the sex offender registry is only as good as the information it contains, so without taking the steps to expand and use data-sharing agreements with other state agencies, it is not fulfilling its mission.”
After a person is convicted and sentenced for a sex crime, SORB is tasked with providing a classification of 1 (low-risk of re-offense and danger to the public), 2, or 3 (high risk of re-offense and danger to the public) to determine how their information is released to the public and their level of oversight.
Of the 936 offenders who had not received a classification level during the audit period:
· 237 are convicted of indecent assault and battery on a person aged 14 or older;
· 177 are convicted of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 years of age;
· 143 are convicted of rape; and
· 129 are convicted of rape of a child with force.
Finally, the audit found that SORB did not ensure that all sex offenders were assigned a final classification before they were released from incarceration.
Other audits by the office have similarly found agencies not accessing or sharing information that would protect the public. A 2014 audit of the Board of Registration in Medicine (BORIM) found that BORIM received only two reports of criminal activity for licensed physicians from state courts during an eleven-year period. However, the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system showed 82 other physicians with either a criminal conviction or continuation without finding that were not reported to the state during the same period. As a result of that audit, BORIM established a new data-sharing process in which it receives information about physician criminal activity from the Executive Office of the Trial Court.
“Unfortunately, SORB is not alone it its failure to establish good data-sharing arrangements that will improve its effectiveness. It can be hard to break down walls,” said Bump.
The Sex Offender Registry Board was established by Chapter 29 of the Acts of 1996 to comply with the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, which requires states to create a registry of sex offenders and crimes against children. SORB works with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure the proper registration of sex offenders in Massachusetts. It is the only entity tasked with classification of each registered sex offender. SORB states its mission is “to promote public safety through educating and informing the public in order to prevent further victimization. This is accomplished through registering and classifying convicted sex offenders by risk of re-offense and degree of danger and disseminating the identifying information of those offenders who live, work and/or attend institutions of higher learning in the communities of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
At the time of the audit, its registry contained records of 21,808 convicted sex offenders. Of those, 13,127 lived in Massachusetts; 5,260 had moved out of state while another 3,421 were either incarcerated or had been deported.
The Board consists of seven full-time members appointed by the Governor.
About the Office of the State Auditor
The Office of the State Auditor conducts performance audits of state government’s programs, departments, agencies, authorities, contracts, and vendors. With its reports, the OSA issues recommendations to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency. The OSA has identified approximately $1.3 billion in unallowable, questionable, or potentially fraudulent spending and saving opportunities for the Commonwealth since 2011. Last year, auditees report implementation of 91 percent of the OSA’s audit recommendations. The office received the Einhorn-Gary Award for its success furthering government accountability.