MA: Sex offender registration slows after legal changes.
November 13, 2000
Not surprisingly, Agawam resident Donna M. Moore
still has the two-year-old list of sex offenders in her
Moore obtained the information from Agawam's police
department. But don't bother trying to get a similar list.
Right now, such information is not available to the public
in Agawam or anywhere else in the state.
"So many people are concerned," Moore said. "They
don't understand why they can't get that information."
That situation is likely to change in December or
January, according to state officials responsible for
registering sex offenders. But even if the names of such
people can be released, it is likely to be several months
— perhaps years — before the name of every sex
offender is available to the public.
"Unfortunately, it's not a fast process," Robert W.
Baker, director of operations for the state's Sex
Offender Registry Board, said.
The board is responsible for registering sex offenders.
Baker was in Agawam last week for a public meeting
about the registry board held at the Agawam police
station. The meeting was the first public meeting held by
the board, which was created in September.
"I thought it was very useful," said Agawam resident
Jeffrey D. Dawson, who attended the meeting.
The state Legislature passed a law in August 1996
requiring sex offenders to register with police and for
police to make the information available to the public.
State officials have estimated that 17,000 people would
be required to register. An estimated 2,700 sex
offenders live in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and
Berkshire counties, Baker said.
Initially, a volunteer registry board was responsible for
registering and classifying sex offenders. Sex offenders
are classified into three categories, ranging from low risk,
Level 1, offenders to high risk, Level 3, offenders.
Information about Level 1 offenders is not available to
the public. As for levels 2 and 3 offenders, residents can
obtain the names of such people who live "anywhere that
you're likely to go or where your children are likely to
go," said Stephen L. DiNatale, the board's director of
training and community services.
An estimated 7,000 sex offenders were registered by the
volunteer registry board from 1996 to 1998. Of those
individuals, 1,389 were classified as Level 1, 2 or 3
offenders, Baker said. The others had not yet been
But in August 1999, the state's Supreme Judicial Court
ruled that people identified as sex offenders were entitled
to a hearing before being required to register. The same
court ruling also nullified all the classifications already
made by the volunteer sex-offender registry. As a result,
all sex offenders must be reregistered and reclassified by
the new Sex Offender Registry Board.
In addition, the court ruling prompted the state
Legislature to enact a law in September 1999 requiring
sex offenders to register by mailing in a postcard rather
than registering in person at the police station. The
American Civil Liberties Union immediately criticized the
new law. And last December, Suffolk Superior Court
Judge John Xifaras ruled the new law was
unconstitutional, saying, "registration prior to a showing
of necessity...violates a protected liberty interest."
Meanwhile, police departments have been unable to
release the names of registered sex offenders since
August 1999. And until a Supreme Judicial Court rules
on Xifaras' decision, the registry board cannot register
any sex offenders.
The court is likely to reach a decision in December or
January, Baker said. But regardless of the outcome, the
entire registration and classification process will be
significantly slower since sex offenders will be able to
request a hearing challenging their registration or
"The potential is there for a lot of hearings," Baker said.
Baker estimates the new process will limit the registry
board to classifying about 70 sex offenders per week.
Based on this pace, it would take the registry board until
the summer of 2005 to classify all 17,000 sex offenders.
The process is not likely to take that long since not every
sex offender will request a hearing, Baker said.
Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett
agreed. "I think it will probably not be as difficult as
some think now."
But Bennett added that he believed it was important to
have the registry up and running in the state. "It gives us
a greater ability to monitor and prevent crime," he said.
"These individuals are dangerous and it's a public safety
Springfield Police Sgt. Donald P.W. Sicard Jr., who
supervises sex-offender registry for the department,
agreed, saying it was "frustrating" not being able to
disseminate such information right now. "As an
individual, I would always be concerned about the lack
of information," he said.
Moore echoed Sicard's comments. Parents should be
able to obtain such information, she said, "so they can
take precautions and inform their children."
Source: Union-News, Sunday Republican., by Ken Ross.