Justice Department Plans Registry of Sex Offenders

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By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Justice Department announced plans yesterday for a national registry of sex offenders that would allow Internet users to check all the state databases in a single search.

Officials said the Web site is being created in response to complaints from victims' rights groups and some lawmakers that dangerous sex predators were often evading detection by moving across state lines.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, in a speech at the National Press Club announcing the initiative, said Justice would aim to have a working Web site linked to 20 states within 60 days. The remaining states would be added by fall, he said.

"We must keep parents and communities informed and engaged," Gonzales said. "With this technology, every citizen and law enforcement officer will be able to search the latest information for the identity and location of known sex offenders."

All but two states now have some sort of sex offender registry, but calls for a nationwide database have gained support in the wake of several high-profile crimes involving multiple jurisdictions.

In one well-known case, Dru Sjodin, 22, a North Dakota college student, was allegedly abducted and killed in 2003 by a sex offender who had been released from a Minnesota prison six months earlier. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), has proposed legislation known as "Dru's Law" that includes a national offender registry.

"With all the high-profile abductions and crimes by sexual predators, it's long past the time when we need a national registry," Dorgan said, adding that he would continue pushing for other legislative changes, including stricter monitoring of released offenders.

Defense lawyers have criticized some of the state databases for creating a climate of retribution against offenders who have paid their debt to society. Civil liberties groups have also raised concerns about the privacy implications of a nationwide registry.

Justice officials said the new Web site would avoid privacy problems by merely tapping into databases maintained by the states, which would maintain control of their own data.

Gonzales said Justice will also work with officials in the two states that do not have registries -- Rhode Island and Oregon -- "to be sure that everyone gets on board with this important public notification system."

The National Sex Offender Public Registry will be free of charge.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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