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Is Utah failing to keep tabs on sex offenders?

Web firm says state admits many addresses are wrong

Published: Wednesday, July 20 2005 9:08 a.m. MDT

OREM — A private Web site that maps the known residences of Utah's registered sex offenders has raised an alarming concern — the state may have incorrect addresses for as many as two-thirds of those listed on the registry.

That means the state may not know the whereabouts of as many as 5,400 of its roughly 8,200 registered sex offenders.

Mark Olsen, an account manager for Orbizon, the Orem-based Web development company that designed the site — www.mapsexoffenders.com — said the Utah Department of Corrections, which maintains the information on the registry, contacted his company Monday and told it about the potentially incorrect information.

"We were concerned about that, so we turned off our Web site," Olsen said.

Messages left with Jack Ford, a Utah Department of Corrections spokesman, were not returned.

A federal statute known as Megan's Law requires each state to maintain a registry listing the names, addresses and crimes of convicted sex offenders and to notify the public any time the offenders move. The specific information gathered and the way it is disseminated is left up to the individual states.

The UDC's handling of the sex offender registry has also raised concern with a national group, Parents for Megan's Law, that monitors the way states maintain their sex offender registries.

Parents for Megan's Law regularly surveys agencies that are responsible for the registries in each state to measure their compliance with the federal statute. In the most recent survey, Utah received a zero.

"Utah, after numerous requests, refused to give us the information, so they get a zero," said Laura Ahearn, the executive director of Parents for Megan's Law. "We've had positive responses from every agency in the nation that administers Megan's Law except the Utah Department of Corrections."

Ahearn said she did not know the reason for UDC's refusal to cooperate. She said it could be a lack of personnel, a lack of resources or bureaucratic red tape. But she did say her organization has sent numerous surveys, by mail and fax, and has never received a response.

"It's very disturbing," she said. "I'm not exactly sure how to interpret it. But if I were in Utah, I would question that."

For now, the question that seems to concern most Utah residents is when Orbizon's site, which was averaging between 15,000 and 30,000 hits per day since it launched last week, will return.

"We've heard from the public, 'Don't shut it down, we love you guys, when are you going to come back?' " Olsen said.

Olsen said assuring the information is correct is not the only obstacle mapsexoffenders.com faces, as the state has raised a concern of its own. The statue that requires UDC to maintain the sex offender registry contains a provision that prohibits other entities from republishing the information.

Olsen said the state is working with Orbizon to get the Web site back online and present the information in an appropriate manner.

"We are going to work with the state to provide accurate information in a way that the state finds acceptable and the public finds useful," he said.

In Utah, the UDC maintains the registry and makes the information public through its Web site — www.cr.ex.state.ut.us/community/sexoffenders/. Anyone convicted of a sexual crime is required to keep their name and address on the registry for at least 10 years. Those who are convicted of sexual crimes against children or aggravated sexual assault are required to remain on the registry for life.

Convicted sex offenders are required to register with the UDC within 10 days of their release from prison or within 10 days of any change of address. Failure to comply is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence and one year of probation.

Orbizon had planned to launch similar sites for each state but is taking a more cautious approach after the Utah experience. Olsen said some states have said Orbizon can go ahead and publish the information they have. Some of the states have also assured the company that the information on their states' Web sites is accurate.


E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com

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