Reauthorization of the Adam Walsh Act
Summary of Testimony Before the House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security
February 15, 2011
The SMART Office's congressional testimony covers—
- The status of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) implementation.
- The SMART Office's efforts to help states, tribes, and territories with implementation.
- Some of the remaining barriers SORNA jurisdictions face.
On the Status of SORNA Implementation
- The states of Ohio, Florida, Delaware, and South Dakota; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation; and the U.S. territory of Guam have substantially implemented SORNA.
- To date, 47 states, the District of Columbia, 5 territories, and 41 tribes have submitted materials to the SMART Office for review and technical assistance.
- Many jurisdictions that have not fully implemented SORNA have made great strides. For example, Wisconsin improved its website capabilities and is addressing areas where laws and regulations are not SORNA compliant. Iowa strengthened information-sharing capabilities with agencies both within and outside of the state. Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming implemented all but one or two key provisions of SORNA. Maine developed a relationship with local U.S. Marshals to share information and track down noncompliant offenders.
On Efforts To Help With Implementation
- Dedicated more than $39 million in grants, training, and other resources to the field. In fact, 43 states, 3 U.S. territories, and 58 Indian tribes have received funding under our Support for Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program.
- Issued guidelines and developed supplemental guidelines and implementation documents to clarify SORNA's requirements and provide jurisdictions with greater flexibility in how they meet them.
- Held annual national workshops on SORNA implementation to address implementation costs, available resources, and the implications of the upcoming deadline.
- Provided numerous resources to help address information-sharing and technology gaps:
- The Tribe and Territory Sex Offender Registry System (TTSORS), available free of charge to all SORNA tribes and territories, serves as both the administrative registry system and the public sex offender website system that tribes and territories need to comply with SORNA. Currently, 229 people representing 125 tribes have attended a TTSORS training and 110 tribes and territories are using or testing TTSORS.
- The Sex Offender Registry Tool (SORT), available free of charge to states, serves as an administrative registry system; offers local registration agencies their own public sex offender website system, which they need to meet SORNA requirements; and provides electronic notifications to other law enforcement agencies and the public. Currently, 10 states have expressed interest in using SORT and 3 have begun projects to customize SORT for their jurisdictions.
- The SORNA Exchange Portal helps states, territories, and tribes share information about sex offenders who are relocating or are required to register in more than one jurisdiction. The portal also allows states, territories, and tribes to share ideas and crucial information such as contacts, announcements, and historical files. Currently, the portal's 382 users represent 50 states, 2 U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, 37 Indian tribes, the U.S. Marshals Service, and other federal law enforcement agencies.
- The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) is the public's link to information regarding registered sex offenders throughout the country. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, 3 U.S. territories, and 22 tribal nations have sex offender public websites linked to NSOPW.
On Some Barriers to Implementation
- Specific barriers include opposition to specific SORNA requirements, such as juvenile registration, retroactivity, conviction-based tiering, and public notification. General barriers include government turnover, public opposition, resistance to change, and legislative fatigue. Implementation costs remain a primary reason for some states' failure to pass required legislation. (See a compilation of information reported by each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.)
- Most of the SORNA tribes face challenges related to establishing sex offender registration and notification systems for the first time and have difficulty meeting information-sharing standards.
- Most states have to change their existing laws to meet SORNA's requirements. Many have introduced bills in their legislatures that would move them toward substantial implementation of SORNA. It is difficult to predict, from state to state, which ones will be successful in enacting legislation and which ones will not.
In addition, the testimony outlines the July 27 implementation deadline and the penalties faced by jurisdictions that do not meet it.
Spotlight on Indian Country
Assisting Tribes With SORNA Implementation
Since the passage of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), the SMART Office has developed tools, resources, and guidance to assist tribal jurisdictions in their implementation of SORNA.
- In January 2011, the office sponsored two representatives from each SORNA tribal jurisdiction to attend the 2011 SORNA Implementation Workshop. At the workshop, tribal representatives discussed obstacles, devised strategies, and met with state representatives to foster collaborations to improve information sharing. They also received targeted technical assistance focused on capacity building and the types of federal grant funding available to assist with SORNA implementation.
- The SMART Office is working hand-in-hand with a team of consultants to provide guidance on tribal codes, develop policies and procedures, work through the Substantial Implementation Checklist, assist with the identification of funding opportunities, and provide information about the types of activities eligible for funding. The office also recently launched a training and technical assistance project to support tribes. Tribal jurisdictions are encouraged to request technical assistance through the Fox Valley Technical College.
- The office recently developed two resources to assist tribes in preparing a substantial implementation package and drafting legislation:
- The first resource provides guidance in assembling the appropriate documents, developing policies and procedures, and submitting the package in a way that best informs the SMART Office of the work that has been completed and the tribe's progress toward substantial implementation.
- The second resource, an updated Model Tribal Code, reflects the changes in federal law that came about with the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act. It is important to understand these changes before submitting a substantial implementation package.
New Supplemental Guidelines and Checklist
On January 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice released supplemental guidelines for the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The SORNA supplemental guidelines address, among other things, public notification of juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent for serious sex crimes; posting of sex offender information, such as email addresses and other Internet identifiers; and reporting of international travel requirements. Other issues addressed include ongoing review of SORNA implementation, the sharing of information across jurisdictions, and the application of SORNA to Indian tribes newly recognized by the federal government.
New Substantial Implementation Checklist
The latest version of the SORNA Checklist makes substantive changes to the previous version with changes authorized by the supplemental guidelines, including the following:
- Jurisdictions are required to have sex offenders report international travel 21 days in advance of such travel and to submit information concerning such travel to the appropriate federal agencies and databases.
- Jurisdictions are required to use the SORNA Exchange Portal to ensure consistent interjurisdictional information sharing and tracking of sex offenders.
- Jurisdictions must now include the forms signed by sex offenders acknowledging that they were advised, as required, of their registration obligations.
- Jurisdictions are now permitted to register only those individuals who reenter the jurisdiction's criminal justice system because of a conviction for a felony crime (whether or not it is a sex offense).
The SORNA checklist is organized into 14 sections, covering the major requirements of the Act. Each section contains a table listing the SORNA requirement with space to answer whether the jurisdiction meets that requirement (yes/no), the relevant statute citation and/or the relevant administrative policy or procedure page number, and a "notes" space to further elaborate or explain the jurisdiction's approach to the corresponding requirement.
Measuring Implementation Costs
As the final implementation deadline for the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) approaches, the SMART Office has been working on new ways to assist SORNA registration jurisdictions as they work toward implementation. Recently, the office began the process of developing a model to measure the financial cost of implementing SORNA to provide SORNA jurisdictions with guidance for their respective budget preparations and to provide a foundation for increased federal SORNA-related funding to the registration jurisdictions.
To gain a better understanding of the startup costs of implementation, the SMART Office and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) are examining the budgets and cost data from grantees of the Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program (a program that assists jurisdictions with implementation costs). Although those budgets provide information about the costs of getting a SORNA-compliant registration and notification system up and running, they do not speak to annual operating costs.
To better understand operating costs, the SMART Office and NIJ are reaching out to registry offices at both the state/tribal and local levels to find out how much time, and how many staff, are involved in in-person registration verifications and updates required of sex offenders, as well as how many visits such an office handles per year. The intent of these efforts is to develop a reliable model for SORNA registration jurisdictions to use in measuring ongoing costs of implementation. In addition, responses from registry officials will provide valuable information about non-personnel costs, such as supplies and equipment.
The SMART Office is interested in enlisting additional state, tribal, and local registry offices to participate in this cost study. If your office would like to participate, please contact us at [email protected].
Submitting Substantial Implementation Packets
As SORNA's final statutory deadline of July 27, 2011, approaches, jurisdictions must submit formal requests to the SMART Office for review of their substantial implementation status. The SMART Office has requested that jurisdictions, whenever possible, submit these requests and supporting documentation (the implementation packet) by April 1, 2011, to provide time for review and discussion, as well as any necessary changes or modifications. However, it is essential that jurisdictions submit their implementation packets to our office by the statutory deadline. Failure to do so will result in a determination that the jurisdiction has not substantially implemented SORNA by the deadline. If a jurisdiction does not intend to substantially implement SORNA by July 27, 2011, we are asking that they submit that in writing to us as well.
Format for Substantial Implementation Submission
A complete substantial implementation packet includes many documents. The SMART Office recommends that this information come in a binder with a table of contents referencing the materials included. Further, the Substantial Implementation Checklist should be included and should refer to the locations in the binder or the specific sections where components can be found. If possible, submitting statutes, codes, policies and procedures, and forms electronically (on disc or thumb drive, or via email) is helpful for quickly relaying comments.
The SMART Office Policy Advisor assigned to the review must be able to contact a designee from the jurisdiction who can answer questions, complete omissions, and make corrections to the submission. Contact information for this person should be included with the submission.
Failure To Implement SORNA
States and territories (and the District of Columbia) that fail to substantially implement the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) by the July 27, 2011, deadline face a 10-percent annual reduction in Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funds for each year that they do not implement SORNA; however, the 10-percent reduction is only applied to the state portion (60 percent) of the total Byrne JAG funding distributed to the jurisdictions.
Calculating award amounts under the Byrne JAG formula is a multistep process. First, initial allocations to the states, territories, and the District of Columbia are calculated based on population and violent crime statistics, and certain adjustments are made to ensure a minimum amount of funds for each state, territory, and the District of Columbia. These initial allocations determine the amount that goes into each state, but not the amount that goes to the state government itself. Rather, of this initial allocation, 60 percent goes directly to the state, with the remaining 40 percent going to qualifying units of local government and tribes. If a state fails to substantially implement SORNA, the 10-percent reduction in its Byrne JAG formula funds will be applied only to the 60 percent in direct grants to the state and not to the 40 percent in grants to local governments and tribes within the state.
The reduction will be applied in the fiscal year following the implementation deadline. For example, if a jurisdiction has not substantially implemented SORNA by July 27, 2011, the reduction will be 10 percent of the FY 2012 award, imposed when the FY 2012 awards are made.
For those jurisdictions that are still working toward implementing SORNA, the Act provides for reallocation of funds withheld to be used solely for SORNA implementation. The SMART Office is currently developing guidance on this procedure and will inform jurisdictions of the reallocation process closer to the July 2011 deadline.
For Indian tribes that have elected to implement SORNA and fail to meet the July 2011 deadline, there is a separate and significant penalty: a tribe's registration and notification obligations could be delegated to the state in which the tribe is located. The SMART Office will work with these tribes to determine whether implementation is likely to occur within a reasonable amount of time or whether delegation to the state is appropriate.
Further, if a tribe has delegated its registration and notification obligation to the state, it no longer functions as a SORNA jurisdiction and is no longer subjected to penalties.
Byrne JAG Program: Visit the Bureau of Justice Assistance's website for more information about Byrne JAG funding.
Tracking Offenders Departing and Entering the Country
When the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was enacted and its Final Guidelines were published, the U.S. Department of Justice was tasked with creating a tracking system for sex offenders who depart and reenter the United States. To that end, the SMART Office created the International Tracking of Sex Offenders Working Group in 2008, which has been working to enable appropriate information sharing about sex offenders who either intend to travel or are travelling internationally. This proposed system is outlined in a white paper made available to Congress in December 2010.
The SMART Office has recently provided a number of tools to enable federal, tribal, state, and local law enforcement to more effectively supervise and interdict sex offenders. With regard to the international travel of sex offenders, the SMART Office has developed, in conjunction with Passport Services of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, a fact sheet on the process for denial, revocation, or limitation of a U.S. Passport that explains how law enforcement can work directly with the State Department to ensure that sex offenders who meet certain specific conditions may be prevented from obtaining a U.S. passport or can have their U.S. passports officially revoked.
The U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB) of INTERPOL is also able to receive from any law enforcement entity direct notifications about offenders who either intend to travel or are travelling internationally. USNCB also has a process through which it determines whether a green notice (issued to warn about subjects who are a possible threat to public safety or may commit a criminal offense), informal notification, or other action is warranted based on the information it receives. USNCB has processed more than 3,000 of these requests over the past few years. In addition, USNCB immediately notifies the appropriate U.S. law enforcement agencies upon receiving information that any foreign sex offender is traveling to the United States.
The working group will be finalizing the tracking system itself, which will be housed in the National Sex Offender Targeting Center of the U.S. Marshals Service. Within the next 6 months, the working group will endeavor to make it possible for notifications to be sent directly to the appropriate state or local registry officials when any registered sex offender departs the country. For example, if an offender currently registers in Wisconsin and is screened upon departure on an international flight out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport, the appropriate Wisconsin authorities would be notified of that screening. These notifications will be expanded in the future to cover registered sex offenders entering the country as well.
2011 National Workshop
The SMART Office held its 2011 National Workshop on the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) in the District of Columbia, January 10–11. Despite the harsh weather conditions in the region, more than 400 registry officials, law enforcement personnel, tribal representatives, and practitioners attended the conference. This year's workshop provided jurisdictional representatives with training as well as an overview of SMART Office resources made available to help them work toward SORNA's July 27, 2011, substantial implementation deadline.
The workshop included six sessions:
- Information-sharing requirements and procedures for when an offender travels to a different jurisdiction.
- Measuring the cost of implementing SORNA.
- Resources and grant funding available through the SMART Office.
- Implementation updates.
- Implications of the deadline for SORNA registration jurisdictions.
- The Tribal Law and Order Act.
In addition to presentations and discussions related to SORNA by SMART Office senior policy advisors and grant managers, tribal and state officials were provided the opportunity to discuss how collaboration will assist the tribes with SORNA implementation. On the second day of the workshop, tribal representatives were provided information about SORNA and how to apply for Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant funding.
Planning for our 2012 symposium is already underway. Check our Symposium Website often for information about the 2012 event.
The SMART Office 2011 Program Plan includes continuing support for two grant programs administered by the office since 2008:
- Support for the Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program.
- Comprehensive Approaches to the Sex Offender Management Grant Program.
In addition, the SMART Office plans to release a funding opportunity to support training and technical assistance for eligible Indian tribes regarding SORNA implementation.
FY 2011 Support for Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program
In fiscal year 2011, the SMART Office continues support for implementation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). This funding—up to $400,000 per grant award—assists jurisdictions in offsetting the costs of SORNA implementation. See the funding announcement for more details.
FY 2011 Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management Training and Technical Assistance Program
The SMART Office recently announced the release of the SMART FY 2011 Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management Training and Technical Assistance Program funding opportunity. In FY 2011, funding will focus on courts and support judicial training and technical assistance regarding multidisciplinary sex offender management. Please see the funding announcement for more details.
Additional FY 2011 Funding Opportunities
It is anticipated that the support for Indian tribes grant program will be posted in the second quarter of the calendar year and that awards will be made by October 2011. (Funding for this grant program is subject to the availability of appropriated funds.)
SMART Office funding opportunities may be found on the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) funding page, the SMART Office website, or on Grants.gov. All applications must be submitted via Grants.gov. Interested applicants are encouraged to review the OJP funding resource document, Grants 101, before applying.
In 2010, the SMART Office awarded $9.6 million to states, tribes, and territories for SORNA implementation; $975,000 for operation of the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, and $3 million to develop and enhance comprehensive sex offender management systems in communities nationwide. A list of 2010 grantees may be found online (see SMART Awards).
The SMART Office also continued its commitment to addressing juvenile sex offender issues by collaborating with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on the Youth with Sexual Behavior Problems Program. This program assists localities in developing and implementing community-based treatment programs for youth ages 10–14 who have exhibited inappropriate sexual behaviors against another child and for their victims. SMART Office funding for this program supports training and technical assistance for the grantee sites.
SORNA Exchange Portal and SORT
In August 2010, the SMART Office distributed a technical needs assessment to better understand the technical issues that states are facing in implementing the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) and to ensure that they are aware of the tools available to them. Of the 39 states that have responded to the needs assessment, 24 states have been contacted so far to address issues identified in their individual assessments. As a result of these assessments, many online demonstrations of the Sex Offender Registry Tool (SORT) and the SORNA Exchange Portal have been conducted, allowing the participating jurisdictions to better understand both. The online demonstrations also were designed to provide a greater understanding of how these tools can help jurisdictions achieve substantial compliance with SORNA.
SORNA Exchange Portal
SORNA requires jurisdictions to share information about sex offenders who are relocating between jurisdictions or are required to register in more than one jurisdiction. The SORNA Exchange Portal was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice to meet this objective and it has been expanded to provide sex offender registration personnel an Internet-based community in which to share information.
Since the last newsletter, the SMART Office has been working diligently with jurisdictions to increase their understanding and usage of the SORNA Exchange Portal in order to facilitate the sharing of sex offender information among jurisdictions. One major enhancement, created to make the Offender Relocation Tasks function more efficient, is the addition of Web Services, which allow jurisdictions to integrate the Offender Relocation Tasks function into their existing sex offender management system. The Web Services provide jurisdictions with the ability to (1) create and assign Offender Relocation Tasks to other jurisdictions and (2) programmatically retrieve Offender Relocation Tasks that have been assigned to them by other jurisdictions.
SORT is a sex offender management application provided by the SMART Office at no cost to assist states in implementing the SORNA registry system requirements of the Adam Walsh Act. SORT makes the registry setup and maintenance process as efficient and effective as possible.
SORT was released in August 2010 and is available for download in the SORT Application document library of the SORNA Exchange Portal. The SORNA Exchange Portal also contains information and resources to assist with implementation of the SORT application, such as the SORT User Manual and the Implementing and Configuring SORT Guide. These publications were created to assist jurisdictions with installing and using SORT. Jurisdictions that are interested in using SORT can get a copy of the source code so the application can be customized to meet their needs. Since its release, SORT has generated a tremendous amount of interest, and the SMART Office anticipates that the interest will increase as more jurisdictions learn about SORT and as the implementation deadline approaches.
Tribe and Territory Sex Offender Registry System
In September 2010, version 2 of TTSORS was released. Enhancements include—
- Full integration with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) Exchange Portal.
- Interactive maps that allow users to manually place the map pointer on the location that best represents an address.
- Advanced searching capabilities, which allow jurisdictions to conduct searches based on criteria such as physical descriptors, addresses, vehicle descriptions, and more.
- Many additional improvements designed to make TTSORS a more comprehensive resource for tribes and territories to use to help them achieve SORNA compliance.
The SMART Office recognized that the release of TTSORS, version 2, might cause problems for jurisdictions that have already been using TTSORS and were accustomed to its original functionality. To prepare jurisdictions for the changes, the SMART Office held two webinars in September during which staff demonstrated and explained the new features and enhancements. The webinars proved to be a huge success, with more than 80 participants in the sessions.
To meet the TTSORS training needs, the SMART Office has continued to conduct regional training events, providing the opportunity for tribes and territories to participate in a comprehensive training, with full access to knowledgeable instructors who can help them to gain a better understanding of TTSORS. Since the last newsletter, the SMART Office has held two additional TTSORS regional training events—one in Billings, Montana, and one in Scottsdale, Arizona. To date, there have been 7 successful training events at which 230 individuals from 125 tribes and 2 territories have been trained.
Realizing the convenience and cost-effectiveness of providing training online, SMART staff have been developing on-demand online training modules on TTSORS, which are expected to be available to the field by early spring. These training modules will help jurisdictions train new users and enhance current users' understanding of the primary functions of TTSORS.
Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website
The SMART Office is making some cosmetic changes to the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) that will improve the site's layout and accessibility. These changes are expected to be finalized within the first quarter of 2011.
The SMART Office continues to work with jurisdictions to provide additional offender information to NSOPW so that new search functionality and more offender information can be made available to the public. The new information will enable NSOPW to provide thumbnail images, current ages, full addresses, and aliases in the search results. In addition, address-based radius searching will be available for addresses within those states that provide the latitudes and longitudes of offender addresses.
At this point, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah are providing the new Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA)-required information. Once 15 states are doing so, the SMART Office will consider making public the new search functionality and offender information from those 15 states so that NSOPW users can begin to access the new features.
In This Newsletter
- New Supplemental Guidelines and Checklist
- Measuring Implementation Costs
- Submitting Substantial Implementation Packets
- Failure To Implement SORNA
- Tracking Offenders Departing and Entering the Country
- 2011 National Workshop