SORNA: Addressing the Challenges
The SMART Office responds to requests from the field regarding all matters related to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, and various topics related to sex offender management. We seek to foster a well-informed and accurate discussion of SORNA's requirements. Our staff help jurisdictions adopt SORNA provisions by reviewing the legislation a jurisdiction proposes and its existing statutes, policies, and procedures.
Since SORNA's enactment and the development of final guidelines in 2008, we have recognized many challenges that jurisdictions face when implementing the Act. Three major challenges are—
- Offense tiering.
- Juvenile registration.
SORNA is generally designed to strengthen the effectiveness of sex offender registration and notification and to eliminate potential gaps and loopholes through which sex offenders could attempt to evade registration requirements or the consequences of registration violations. A common misconception is that SORNA's tiering structure is meant to help predict sexual reoffense and that it supersedes jurisdictions' existing risk assessment processes.
To implement SORNA, jurisdictions do not have to adopt any particular approach to labeling or categorizing sex offenders. A jurisdiction meets SORNA's requirements as long as its sex offenders are consistently subject to the same duration of registration, frequency of in-person appearances for verification, and extent of website disclosure that SORNA would require for offenders convicted of those sex offenses.
Jurisdictions must make certain registration information about tier II and tier III offenders available on their public websites, but may decide to exclude information about some tier I sex offenders.
See pages 21–26 of SORNA's final guidelines for additional guidance.
Risk assessment processes are used in many jurisdictions for various reasons. These include determining the level of community notification required and aiding in making release decisions, filing civil commitment proceedings, structuring treatment programming, establishing supervision intensity, and, in a few instances, determining the duration of a sex offender's registration requirement and in-person reporting frequency. Most current sex offender registrations are triggered by a sex offender's conviction for the crime.
SORNA does not preclude the use of risk assessment tools for community notification purposes, particularly for the more active forms of notification (e.g., community meetings, fliers, door-to-door canvassing). However, to substantially implement SORNA, jurisdictions might need to include a broader class of sex offenders on their public registry websites. In all instances, jurisdictions may use risk assessment tools as a justification for increasing SORNA's minimum notification requirements.
See pages 33–37 of SORNA's final guidelines for additional guidance.
Jurisdictions that use an assessment process to determine the duration of a sex offender's registration requirement and reporting frequency will need to alter their systems to make these requirements dependent on the crime conviction (matching the appropriate SORNA tier requirements). Jurisdictions may use risk assessment methods to increase these requirements as they see fit.
Many jurisdictions struggle with the question of whether SORNA applies to sex offenders convicted before it was passed or before a jurisdiction has substantially implemented it. SORNA's final guidelines limit its retroactive reach. Jurisdictions must register sex offenders who were not required to register prior to SORNA's substantial implementation if those sex offenders are incarcerated, on supervision, or if they later reenter the system because of conviction for some other crime (whether or not the new crime is a sex offense). Jurisdictions are allowed to phase in SORNA registration requirements for these recaptured sex offenders. After a jurisdiction has substantially implemented SORNA, those sex offenders who are subject to retroactive application and who meet the tiering criteria should be registered as such:
- Tier I: within 1 year.
- Tier II: within 6 months.
- Tier III: within 3 months.
See pages 7–8 of SORNA's final guidelines for additional guidance.
It may not always be possible to obtain information about earlier sex offense convictions for those sex offenders reentering the system, particularly when they occurred many years ago and the criminal history information available may be uninformative regarding factors, such as the victim's age, that can affect SORNA's registration requirements. SORNA requires jurisdictions only to rely on the methods and standards they normally use in searching criminal records.
To help, the SMART Office developed a historical archive database of state statutes related to sex offenses, which obviates the need for intensive legal research on a local level. This resource is available on the Exchange Portal, to which the registry officials of all jurisdictions have access.
A common misconception is that SORNA requires jurisdictions to register all juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses. In fact, SORNA requires juvenile registration only if the juvenile was at least 14 years old at the time of the offense and was adjudicated delinquent for committing (or attempting or conspiring to commit) a sexual act with another by force, by the threat of serious violence, or by rendering unconscious or drugging the victim.
Because of the severity of these offenses, these juvenile sex offenders would be categorized as tier III offenders and subject to applicable duration, in-person verification, and community notification requirements.
See page 16 of SORNA's final guidelines for additional guidance.
Tier I: misdemeanor registration offenses, child pornography possession, and any other sex offenses that do not support a higher classification. Tier I offenders must register for 15 years with annual in-person verification.
Tier II: felonious sexual abuse or sexual exploitation crimes involving victims who are minors, including distributing and producing child pornography. Tier II offenders must register for 25 years with in-person verification every 6 months.
Tier III: forcible sexual assaults regardless of the victim's age, sexual contact offenses against children younger than age 13, and nonparental kidnapping of minors. Tier III offenders must register for life with in-person verification every 3 months.
Whatever the challenges, SMART staff are available to help. By now, all states, territories, and tribes should have received an offer of assistance from their assigned SMART Office policy advisor. If you have questions about SORNA, the final guidelines, or SMART's role, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Office of Justice Programs
U.S. Department of Justice
810 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20531
SMART Welcomes a New Director
The SMART Office is proud to welcome Linda M. Baldwin as its new director. Prior to joining SMART, Ms. Baldwin served as a project manager for the New York State Unified Court System's Office of Court Administration, where she planned and implemented ground-breaking, problem-solving court initiatives on behalf of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Court Operations and Planning. During her 7-year tenure, Ms. Baldwin implemented and expanded statewide initiatives for New York's sex offense, mental health, and drug treatment courts.
As part of her work on the New York State Sex Offense Court Initiative, Ms. Baldwin organized training programs to teach and promote best practices for managing the high-risk population of sex offenders. Furthermore, she led an effort to create the initiative's mission statement and key principles, which were designed to guide and promote uniformity among these courts. In addition, Ms. Baldwin personally provided technical assistance to the first five sex offense courts in New York State.
Prior to her work with the New York State Unified Court System, Ms. Baldwin practiced commercial and real estate litigation and clerked for Associate Justice Gary S. Stein of the New Jersey Supreme Court. She received her law degree from Columbia University School of Law and a master's degree in urban planning from the New York University Wagner School of Public Service.
With the first Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) deadline having passed on July 27, 2009, and all jurisdictions having been given 1-year extensions, there is much work to be done in a short amount of time. Ms. Baldwin has made it her priority to ensure that the SMART Office is doing all that it can to assist jurisdictions to successfully implement SORNA.
Please join us in extending a warm welcome to Linda.
New SMART Policy Advisors
With the addition of three new policy advisors—Stephanie LoConto, Scott Matson, and Allison Turkel—SMART now has a full complement of advisors to assist jurisdictions with SORNA implementation issues.
Prior to joining the SMART staff, Stephanie LoConto served as an assistant attorney general in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and was a staff attorney in the National District Attorneys Association's (NDAA) National Juvenile Justice Prosecution Center as well as in NDAA's Drug Prosecution and Prevention Program. Before joining NDAA, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable William I. Cowin of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Ms. LoConto received her bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, in history and American studies from Boston College and her law degree, with honors in litigation and dispute resolution, from Boston University School of Law. Ms. LoConto is a member of the Massachusetts and District of Columbia bars.
Before joining SMART, Scott G. Matson worked as a program manager at the JEHT Foundation in New York City. Also in New York, he served as the Associate Director of the Vera Institute of Justice's Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Prior to joining Vera, Mr. Matson was a research associate for the Center for Effective Public Policy's Center for Sex Offender Management. He began his career at the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, where he evaluated not only the state's compliance with the Jacob Wetterling Act, but also surveyed all 50 states' efforts to comply with the Act. Mr. Matson received his bachelor's degree in sociology from Western Washington University and his master's degree in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Prior to joining the SMART Office, Allison Turkel served as Director of NDAA's National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse (NCPCA). Prior to that appointment, she was the Chief of Training for NDAA's child abuse programs, which included NCPCA and the National Child Protection Training Center. Before NDAA, Ms. Turkel was an assistant state's attorney in McLean County, Illinois, for 18 months and an assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorneys Office for 9 years. Prior to becoming a prosecutor, Ms. Turkel spent 8 years as a police officer. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her juris doctor degree from Temple University.
Under the direction of Attorney General Eric Holder, a 1-year extension was granted on May 26, 2009, to all jurisdictions required to comply with the provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
Jurisdictions now have until July 27, 2010, to substantially implement specific requirements for registering and monitoring sex offenders under the SORNA provisions of the Adam Walsh Act. In addition to this extension, jurisdictions may request another 1-year extension from the SMART Office.
As of May 26, 2009, 48 states, 126 Indian tribes, 5 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia had submitted requests for the first 1-year extension.
2009 Grant Activities
The SMART Office announced two funding opportunities in fiscal year (FY) 2009:
- Support for Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program.
- Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management Training and Technical Assistance Program.
These funding opportunities are now closed and awards will be made by September 30, 2009.
For a list of grant awards made in FY 2009, check the Funding Resources page on our website in October. Future funding opportunities will be posted on the site later this year.
2009 National Symposium on Sex Offender Management and Accountability
The SMART Office held its 2009 National Symposium on Sex Offender Management and Accountability in Houston, Texas, April 21–23. More than 600 registry officials, law enforcement personnel, tribal representatives, prosecutors, and practitioners attended, receiving information and tools to enable them to more effectively monitor, register, track, and manage sex offenders.
SMART's annual symposium included the National Workshop on the Adam Walsh Act, at which officials from most SORNA registry jurisdictions received an overview of the resources and assistance available from the SMART Office. The symposium included presentations about the Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management grant program, the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, and the Tribe and Territory Sex Offender Registry System. Attendees also learned about issues involving international and interjurisdictional tracking of sex offenders, including the efforts of INTERPOL, ICE's Operation Angel Watch, and the Adam Walsh Act-mandated International Tracking of Sex Offenders Working Group.
The symposium included concurrent sessions spread across three tracks:
- Enforcement featured sessions on handling and registering compliant and noncompliant adult and juvenile sex offenders.
- Indian Country highlighted methods and resources for states and tribes to use in developing cooperative agreements and demonstrated the Model Tribal Code for managing and tracking sex offenders in Indian Country.
- Policy covered the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to track sex offenders and recent developments in sex offender registry case law, legislation, and research.
We have already begun planning the 2010 symposium and are working to ensure that it will echo the success of this year's event. Check back soon for information on the 2010 symposium.
Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website
Since its inception in 2005, the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) has been an extremely valuable public safety tool used widely to identify registered sex offenders within communities. Recently, NSOPW underwent a transformation—the site was redesigned with an improved layout, enhanced navigation, added features, and new graphics. In addition to improving its look and making it simpler to use, the redesign also prepared the site for many new features that, once implemented, will make it an even more valuable resource.
SMART Office staff are working with participating jurisdictions to post additional information on the site, such as offender images, multiple addresses, name aliases, address mapping, and other identifying information. This new address-based search capability will allow users to view information about offenders living within a specified geographic radius of the address entered.
To make supplying this additional information as easy as possible, the SMART Office has created the NSOPW Web Service Application. This application removes the complexity of creating the National Information Exchange Model-based Web Service that is required to meet the new NSOPW participation requirements. Currently, Louisiana is the only state using the Web Service Application. The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is in the final stages of implementing the application, which will make them the first Indian tribe to participate in NSOPW.
With close to 20 million users and counting, NSOPW clearly is an invaluable resource. With the help of participating jurisdictions, the SMART Office will continue to enhance the site, improving its communications power and increasing public safety within our communities.
The Exchange Portal is an online information sharing community for Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) registration jurisdictions. The portal provides a collaborative environment in which jurisdictions can work together to manage sex offenders throughout the 50 states, 5 U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and the 197 Indian tribes that have elected to implement SORNA. The portal is available only to registry officials and closed to the general public.
Recently, the Exchange Portal was expanded to include a historical database of state sex offense statutes. This database allows jurisdictions to locate the specific language of the laws that define the criminal offenses for which particular sex offenders are registered. It also provides easy access to the information that SORNA requires jurisdictions to provide on their public registry websites. Without this database, jurisdictions would have to research each offender's criminal offense as it was written at the time of conviction, which could be a time-consuming process. The states that currently have their statutes in the database are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. The database also includes the United States Code sections for the federal and military sexual offense laws.
Tribe and Territory Sex Offender Registry System
The Tribe and Territory Sex Offender Registry System (TTSORS) is a fully functioning system that complies with Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requirements. TTSORS was created to assist the 197 Indian tribes that have elected to implement SORNA and 5 U.S. territories and effectively removes the technical difficulties of implementing SORNA requirements. It includes a customizable public website and a private administrative website for managing sex offender information. Most of Indian Country and the U.S. territories already have the resources they need to use TTSORS—a single computer with Internet access.
Since its launch on January 20, 2009, TTSORS has been overwhelmingly received by the tribes and territories. Due to the efforts of the Indian tribes that adopted the system early on, TTSORS has evolved into a resource that can meet the unique sex offender registration needs of all the jurisdictions it aims to assist. TTSORS is currently used by more than 70 Indian tribes and U.S. territories, assisting with the technical requirements of implementing SORNA, and the number is increasing rapidly.
To get your tribe or territory started, email [email protected] or call the Institute for Intergovernmental Research at 850-385-0600, ext. 222, for additional information.
Model Tribal Code for SORNA
Prior to passage of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006, tribes were not included in national sex offender registration laws. Title I of the Act, SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act), provides that non-PL 280 tribes could elect to function as sex offender registration jurisdictions. Of the 212 eligible tribes, 197 elected to do so and are working to substantially implement the requirements of SORNA. Many tribes will develop and host their own sex offender registry public websites.
The SMART Office provides a free web-based public registry and community notification system, the Tribe and Territory Sex Offender Registry System. Because this is a new area of focus, many tribes do not have laws or codes that address sex offender registration. Since the passage of SORNA, the SMART Office has frequently received requests for model or template code language from tribal leaders, tribal prosecutors, and tribal law enforcement.
In November 2008, in response to these requests, the SMART Office convened a working group of respected Indian lawyers from throughout the country to work on a model code that tribal governments could customize and implement. The following individuals participated in the working group:
- Joshua J. Breedlove, Staff Attorney for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
- M. Brent Leonhard, Deputy Attorney General for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
- Pablo H. Padilla, Attorney at Law.
- Sarah Deer, Professor, William Mitchell School of Law.
- Maureen White Eagle, Attorney with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.
- Hallie Bonger White, Attorney and Executive Director for the Southwest Center for Law and Policy.
- Michelle Rivard, Associate Director, Tribal Judicial Institute, University of North Dakota School of Law.
- Sarah Brubaker, Prosecutor for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
- Virginia Davis, then Associate Counsel for the National Congress of American Indians.
The SMART Office released the model code in April 2009. Although tribes are not required to use the code's language, it is SORNA compliant and provides an excellent starting place for tribal leaders who are creating legal language and authority to substantially implement SORNA.
Visit the SMART Office's Indian Country webpage to access the model code.
In This Newsletter
- SMART Welcomes a New Director
- New SMART Policy Advisors
- Blanket Extension
- 2009 Grant Activities
- 2009 National Symposium on Sex Offender Management and Accountability