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Better sex-offender list eyed


January 11, 2001

State attorney general wants registry of violent offenders expanded, centralized.

Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar wants legislators to expand the state's violent sex-offender list after learning that just one man is named on a Web site intended to warn citizens.

He also wants offenders to register their whereabouts twice a year instead of just once, and he's asking for a central state registry instead of the current hodgepodge of local ones.

The attorney general acknowledged Wednesday that some people might try to force sex offenders to move or even harm them if it becomes easier to find out where they live. New local laws forced sex-offender group homes out of some Denver suburbs beginning in 1999 after registry requirements made it easier to know their addresses.

But Salazar said the right of Colorado residents to know where sex offenders are living is paramount.

"I think sex offenders pose particular problems for the public safety," he said. "All the studies we have indicate sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism."

Sue Armstrong, executor of the local American Civil Liberties Union, urged caution.

"I would be extremely cautious in moving forward to develop a public Web site where people's names are listed," she said.

Armstrong said citizens have a right to the information they need to protect themselves, but that instant knowledge of sex offenders' home addresses could be dangerous.

"I think it creates an atmosphere of group fear, and it escalates, which can result in vigilante mentality," Armstrong said.

Convicted sex offenders must register their addresses annually with their local governments under nationwide "Megan's Laws," named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and strangled to death in 1994 by a neighbor with two sex-offense convictions. No one in the neighborhood had known of his record.
Residents of any community may see their local registries at local government offices. But in Colorado, only sex offenders deemed violent and likely to commit more sex offenses are posted on the statewide Web site.

Colorado has about 8,300 registered sex offenders, but the only one on the state Web site is a 54-year-old La Plata County man with a history of attacking children.

"The requirements of the law are quite onerous," Salazar said. "You have to be really violent. A court also has to make a specific finding that you are a sexually violent predator. A risk assessment is conducted.

"The Web site is now rather limited. It tells me there ought to be additional categories."

In addition to the sex offenders already registered in Colorado, another 1,600 or so may be released soon from state prisons without parole or other supervision, Salazar said.

A dispute is pending before the Colorado Supreme Court over the legislature's intent when it enacted a series of confusing changes in sex-offender laws in the 1990s. Salazar contends the legislature didn't mean to set those offenders free without supervision.

Some critics have warned that strict registration laws might backfire. ACLU lawyer Mark Silverstein said last year that he had heard of an unintended consequence of Megan's Laws that some police chiefs were calling "Megan's Flight."

"Registered sex offenders, hounded out of community after community, may be moving to other communities and failing to register," he said.


Source: Rocky Mountain News, by Karen Abbott