Massachusetts lawmakers called a hearing Tuesday to discuss an audit that found nearly 1,800 sex offenders do not have addresses listed with the state.
The report, released last month, found 1,769 offenders failed to register a current address with the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB). Of those, approximately 900 had not even been classified as offenders in the state system.
"It's not simply a story of bureaucratic deficiency, it's a public safety failure,” said state auditor Suzanne Bump.
During a hearing with the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, Bump said her office had determined that SORB was not being proactive in pursuing offenders who were failing to comply with the law.
"It's not like the Registry of Motor Vehicles, where you can trust that the individuals will be compliant," Bump testified. "You have to be aggressive in ensuring that the information that you have is up to date and is accurate."
According to SORB, the system did need to be updated, but the audit painted an inaccurate picture of the problem. It says the 936 people listed as unclassified are not all residing in the state. Approximately 190 are deceased, 270 are believed to be living outside the state, and another 58 no longer need to be registered, according to the board.
"SORB is doing the best they can with the resources they can. There is 50 people classifying thousands of people," said Dan Bennett, secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
While Bennett told the committee he was appreciative of the auditor's office for their work, he argued they were putting too much onus on the registry board. Of the 936 people unaccounted for in the registry, Bennett said approximately 842 of them did not have any address for the board to locate them. This is because the majority of them were released from prison before SORB was even established nearly two decades ago. As a result, there was no current address on file.
"SORB doesn't have any investigative function," Bennett said. "They did not have addresses that were sufficient to make service."
Adding to the problem, according to Bennett, was a ruling from the Supreme Judicial Court that allowed offenders to appeal their level in the registry. Pending appeal, they are unclassified in the system.
"It's a scary thought," said Sen. Michael Moore, who chairs the committee.
Over the course of the hearing, Moore said it became clear that some legislative action will be necessary to remedy the problems within SORB. He pointed to new numbers from the agency, which showed they had located approximately 400 unclassified offenders since the release of the audit.
"They should be more interactive," Moore said. "Or maybe have a law enforcement entity attached to it, so we can track down these individuals."