Audit: Errors persist in sex offender list
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | July 17,2014
MONTPELIER — An audit of the state’s sex offender registry cited critical errors in 11 percent of offender records and only marginal improvement to the system since an audit in 2010.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer released a report on the registry system Wednesday, noting his office found “a considerable number of errors.”
The results raise questions about the system’s reliability, he said.
“Improper categorization and errors in the system don’t serve the public, which seeks reliable information, or offenders, who are sometimes mislabeled,” he said.
“The registry is meant to provide accurate information to the public and protect the rights of people in the system,” Hoffer said. “Presently, the system doesn’t appear to be doing this as well as it should.”
Critical errors are defined as errors that have resulted or could result in a sex offender being incorrectly omitted, added, retained or deleted from the registry.
The registry is managed by the Department of Public Safety’s Vermont Criminal Information Center, but the information used is largely derived from the Department of Corrections, the judicial system and offenders themselves.
A similar audit in 2010 included a series of recommendations to improve the system. Hoffer said three of those recommendations were fully implemented, six were partially implemented and three were not implemented at all.
The 2010 audit provided a path forward for correcting errors and improving procedures, he said.
“Officials started down that path but didn’t finish the work,” Hoffer added.
Some progress has been made. The audit report said both the Criminal Information Center and the Department of Corrections have improved on some registry practices, and most of the 253 errors — out of 2,340 records — detected during the audit had been fixed as of mid-May.
But the underlying causes of the errors were similar to those found in 2010.
Hoffer said the biggest improvement to the registry has been the implementation of an information-technology system called OffenderWatch.
The biggest shortfall remaining is a failure to track the treatment progress of offenders who are no longer under Corrections supervision, Hoffer said.
State law requires unsupervised sex offenders who have not completed treatment to submit proof to the Criminal Information Center every three months of their continuing treatment. But the center has not created a process to track that, Hoffer said, and it does not know if offenders are following the statutory requirement.
Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito said in an email that his department continues to work on improving the system.
“I thank Doug Hoffer and his staff for taking this work on,” Pallito said. “I’m pleased with the progress that the DOC has made to date, and the department will work to implement the ... recommendation.”
He added, “The DOC is working very hard on the implementation of a new information system which will help to streamline this process with few errors.”
Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects to discuss the audit report at a Corrections Oversight Committee meeting next week with Hoffer and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn.
“I’m glad that we’re at least moving forward,” Sears said. “To me, the most important thing is where we go from here.”
He said he is also concerned that a system in place to keep the addresses of offenders current does not always work. He said lawmakers acted to include addresses on the sex offender registry.
“I want to make sure we stick with that decision,” Sears said.