Sex offender registry: Does it work?

Sex Offender Registry: Does it work?

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - If you're looking for good news, we found some. Alabama is one of only 18 states that the federal government says follows their highest standard of maintaining the registry. The problem is several of our neighboring states, including Georgia, don't.

How could a registered sex offender be working at a church that runs a daycare and is near a school, and no one in law enforcement realize it? That's what we wondered after the May arrest of Paul Littlejohn III, a Sue Bell Cobb campaign aide at the time, whose case only came to light when the media uncovered the situation.

"The system itself is not set up well to do what needs to be done," said Dr. Jeffrey Walker, Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at UAB.

Walker has researched and written on sex offender registry problems and believes the problems start with some of the restrictions on where offenders can or can't live.

"The system is not set up well to track the sex offender population," Walker said. "A fair number are homeless. By the law, there's places in Florida a sex offender can't live in the entire city because it's 10,000 feet from a bus stop or school and it just pushes them out further."

In fact, we did a search and found within five miles of WBRC, there are 294 registered sex offenders, and 38 of them list their address as homeless, meaning law enforcement can't possibly know if they're hanging out near a school or daycare.

"If we did change the system to track people who are child offenders, we would have a smaller number, we could better take care of the addresses, better track them, but that's not the way the system is set up," Walker said.

Both Birmingham police and the Jefferson County Sheriff have officers assigned to do random spot-checking of offenders to make sure they're living where they say they are, but with hundreds of offenders in Jefferson County alone that's a tall order, and the state doesn't conduct any kind of annual audit of the database either.

"What we're trying to do is not what we're accomplishing, and some changes need to be made in the residency restriction with the registration and notification to make them better," Walker said. "We kind of know how to do that, it's just up to the cities and states to be able to adopt it."

To search the Alabama Sex Offender Registry, click here.

If you're not sure how accurate the Sex Offender Registry is, make sure you protect your children by being proactive in educating them about who to talk to, who to avoid, and how to call for help. Here's a great list from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of 25 ways to keep your kids safe.

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