BOISE -- This year marks the 20th year of Idaho's Sex Offender Registry, so KTVB looked at what's changed in those two decades and whether the registry is serving its intended purpose 'to protect communities.'
Since its creation and adoption in 1993, the registry has become more controversial, mostly for two reasons: The high level of public access to the information, and because every offender is listed without classifications.
Changes in laws prompted changes in the registry
Back then it was different. There was a different mentality and it wasn't a big deal, Dawn Peck, Manger of ISP Bureau of Criminal Identification said.
Peck has been involved with the registry since it began on July 1, 1993.
At that time, it was just a little half page form that the offender filled out that said where they were living and what they were convicted of. And it was an honor system, Peck said.
Since then, a lot of changes have been made. In 1998, registration became mandatory for convictions for crimes from rape to enticing a child over the Internet. In 1998, there were around 1,800 registered offenders, and now there are nearly 4,000 registered offenders statewide. In the mid-2000s, ISP put every offender online, making it simple to find who's on the list and where they live.
Back in the initial days of the registry and clear up until the late 2000s, [if you wanted information on an offender] you had to fill out a form and you had to give your address and your driver's license number to get the information, Peck explained.
Offender: 'I really feel that the system, other than the list, was good to me'
Larry Robinson lives with his wife outside of Boise. He's been on the registry since it began. He was registered because he was still under corrections supervision (probation) when the list was created in 1993.
You have this mark of Cain on your forehead and you just can't get away from it, Robinson said. People from my church found that I was on that up here. I went out with this outdoor group for nine years. Somebody found I was on it, and boom, I was out of the group.
Robinson offended three decades ago. He admits sexually abusing a young female family member off and on for years.
Aside from the fact that I am truly, completely repentant for my past deed, I don't want to get into the system again, Robinson said.
Robinson says jail time, treatment and religion changed him years ago, and his victim has forgiven him. But he says forever, his neighbors will know, and sometimes judge him by his old actions.
I richly deserved to face my issues. I absolutely believe that the jail time was a good thing for me because it brought me to my knees and that brought me to Jesus Christ, Robinson said. [But] If you have a proven track record of socially and legally acceptable behavior, I don't believe that should go on indefinitely like it does.
ACLU: Registries punish people unconstitutionally
Rather than have an assessment on the front end of whether or not they're going to reoffend, they just go into this blanket registry, ACLU of Idaho's Executive Director Monica Hopkins said.
The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees with having sex offender registries in general, and particularly disagrees with public registries with no differentiation of severity of crime. They say the registries deny offenders due process rights.
You have everything from you know minor sex crimes to very egregious sex crimes and they all go in the same registry, Hopkins said. Something that started as a regulatory thing so law enforcement could know where individuals were is now a punitive thing that lasts way beyond someone paying their debt to society back.
Prosecutors, police still use registry for enforcement and monitoring
We use it quite frequently, Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor said. The registry helps, but the registry only tells you where they're supposed to be. You need the boots on the street to actually enforce it and make that compliance.
Taylor's office has a unique set up with an investigator in the office helping deputies track down non-compliant offenders and helping with prosecution.
Over the last two years since we implemented this procedure, a lot of them now know that we're looking and watching and monitoring them, so they're becoming much more compliant than they had been in the past, Taylor said. About two years ago, we had a number of failure to register cases, and now that number has dropped because people are actually being where they're supposed to be.
Does the registry prevent sexual abuse from happening?
While some justice experts believe the registry ups awareness, and cuts re-offending, many say it doesn't do much to curb first-time offenses. Critics say the amount of violent sexual crimes are as high or higher than before the registry. KTVB found forcible rape rates (accounting for population growth) in Idaho, for example, fell the first few years of the registry but haven't been that low again.
That's what we need to focus on, is not just being aware of who an offender is, but let's really focus on how to not have a victim, Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney said.
Raney believes the registry responds well to the public demand for access to the information, especially after a north Idaho murder, kidnapping, and sexual abuse case shocked the state. The victims were strangers to now-convicted killer Joseph Duncan.
I think the highlight was around the time of the Joseph Duncan offense in northern Idaho when everybody realized, you could be there, not doing anything. You're child's just fine and suddenly your world changes in a flash, Raney said. That can happen, and I think the Sex Offender Registry offers people just a little bit of comfort about knowing who their neighbors are.
Sheriff: Keeping a public registry is a balancing act
Raney says monitoring and awareness is likely the best deterrent to offenders from committing another abusive act, but says there is more to consider with the registry.
On the flip side of it, there have been cases when this sort of vigilantism, if you will. Of people trying to push a sex offender out of the neighborhood. We know that research says when sex offenders are socially destabilized, they're actually more likely to recidivate, so we try to find the balance between the two, Raney said.
And while Raney says the registry points out who's been caught before and monitoring them helps prevent re-offending, he says the real concern needs to be on who's likely to really be a danger initially or again. For example, victims are much more likely to know their abuser, than not.
That's the difference that I think is often misleading to people is who should we really be concerned about? Who just happens to be on the registry because of something in the past? We really need in the criminal justice system and in the legislature to be able to solve that and make a more clear distinction, Raney said.
Raney and the Idaho Sheriff's Association work with legislators on this very issue. In fact, because of their work, this summer you'll start seeing more changes to the registry statewide to increase public access. You'll be able to sign up for notifications of when a particular offender moves -- or if someone moves into your neighborhood.