OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A system for categorizing sex offenders that experts describe as flawed is causing local police departments and state prison workers in Oklahoma to spend time and money monitoring thousands of sex offenders who pose little risk to the public.
When the federal government imposed requirements on states in 2006 to create a three-tiered system for ranking sex offenders, Oklahoma lawmakers decided to base the tiers strictly on the crime an individual committed.
Because of that, more than 16 sexual crimes in Oklahoma result in offenders being required to register as sex offenders for life or for 25 years — an onerous restriction that imposes numerous requirements and prevents them from living in most urban settings.
“As far as I can tell, there’s no real assessment to a risk,” said Ron Collett, a Norman police detective who oversees about 80 sex offenders in the city. “You’re just given this rating based on the conviction alone.
“I suspect, based on my experience, that there’s some people that could be assessed in other ways to have a more reliable and effective way to tell if they’re a threat to the community or someone that could go on and lead a productive life,” the 20-year law enforcement veteran said.
Rep. Skye McNiel said her interest in the topic was piqued in part by an incident last session when a convicted female sex offender addressed a House committee. The offender, a former teacher from a small southwest Oklahoma town convicted of second-degree rape involving a 17-year-old boy, was required to register for life and would have been prohibited from attending her children’s activities under a bill lawmakers were considering.
“I just want to know what’s out there and how to best protect people,” said McNiel, R-Bristow. “If you have the pool so populated and so diluted with every sex offender, do your law enforcement really know where those bad guys are?”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said the current system for determining how long sex offenders must register is seriously flawed.
“If you’re going to categorize sex offenders, you need to not just look at what they’re charged with, but use assessment tools to determine their level of dangerousness and the level of threat they present to the community, and how likely they are to reoffend,” Prater said.
Oklahoma currently has more than 7,600 registered sex offenders, including about 1,100 who are considered “delinquent” because they aren’t complying with registration requirements, according to the Department of Corrections.