‘Troubling for anybody’: Lawmakers react to investigation of flawed sex offender registry, consider changes

(Source: WBRC video)

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) –

Troubling and alarming. That’s what Alabama lawmakers call revelations of a flaw in the Jefferson County sex offender registry that allowed three convicted sex offenders to reside closer than 2,000 feet to Hemphill Elementary School, in violation of state law.

“This is personal to me,” said Senator Cam Ward (R-District 14), who sponsored bills strengthening the state’s sex offender registry laws. “We have some of the strongest sex offender laws in the country, but when the implementation comes into effect, and we’re not implementing in the right way, then it’s still a problem, so we got to make sure it’s addressed.”

Ward holds the contractor, Offender Services, responsible for the registry’s mapping mistake, which allowed the three offenders to register home addresses too close to the elementary school.

The company mapped the school about 2.5 miles away from its actual location, so that law enforcement was not notified by the sex offender registry when offender addresses were closer than 2,000 feet to the actual location of the school.

“The job is being done correctly by the county municipal folks,” said Ward. “The contractor really dropped the ball. There should be a provision in the contract to make sure these errors don’t happen again.”

Ward wants either a monetary penalty and/or an indemnification clause, which would make the Louisiana-based company liable for mapping errors.

Public records show Offender Services was paid more than $285,000 in 2016. It manages the sex offender registries for the entire state.

Another lawmaker says local law enforcement is responsible, too.

“Because with every one of those individuals – the sheriff’s department, the police department, the company that is responsible for the updating and tracking of the system – all of those entities have a responsibility,” said Representative Juandalynn Givan (D-District 60).

For her, findings of the On Your Side investigation raised a lot of questions she says she will explore with other lawmakers given the start of the state legislative session Tuesday.

Givan said she is connecting with the District Attorney’s Association and law enforcement about the mistaken mapping in the registry. She intends to make everyone working with registry aware of the error in the mapping system and the correction, because “we can never take for granted the protection of our children,” she said.

And, Givan is already considering potential changes in how the registry is handled moving forward, which could include a requirement for a regular review of the contractor’s database for accuracy.

“Someone should be responsible on a day-to-day basis to make sure they are checking that mapping system to make sure it is adequately and sufficiently tracking the sex offenders, their locations or their addresses, or most importantly the proximity of their locations or addresses to the schools, day cares, and what have you,” she said.

When it comes to managing the registry, Givan questions bringing more parties to the proverbial table.

“As I watched the report, what is the role of the school?” she asked. “I think that schools and educators are going to have to be more proactive as it relates to who is living in and around the schools,” Givan explained.

Finally, Givan asks whether the database is worth the money funneled to the out-of-state contractor. “Is it something that could be handled locally?”

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