Reformers: sex offender mandate would hurt Illinois

Other states shrugging off law because of costs

As Illinois lawmakers debate a bill to increase registration requirements for sex offenders under a federal mandate, reform advocates say it would cost the state too much. They say many other states have declined to enact the federal law for the same reason.

Currently, most sex offenders in Illinois are required to register for 10 years. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 3359 would increase that to 15 years for less serious crimes and 25 years for more serious crimes. Sex offenders who don’t register or don’t update their address or other information would then have to register for life. It would also require offenders to register while traveling

The bill is intended to bring Illinois into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.  State Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, sponsors the bill and has pushed similar bills in previous legislative sessions. A phone call seeking comment from Haine was not returned.

But a handful of groups in Illinois oppose the law, saying it would actually decrease public safety by concentrating police resources on sex offenders – many of whom are unlikely to reoffend. In Illinois’ currently tight budget situation, reformers are also raising the issue of the cost of implementing tighter requirements.

Tonia Maloney, director of Illinois Voices for Reform, points to a study by the Justice Policy Institute, a national think tank, which estimates Illinois would spend nearly $21 million to implement the Adam Walsh Act, but would reap less than $1 million in federal grants tied to the law.

“We’re really, really broke over here, and I think they need to look at that a little more,” Maloney says.

Thirty-five other states have declined to implement the federal law because it costs more to implement than the penalty for not doing so. The National Conference of State Legislatures says only 15 states have implemented the law, and many states continue to struggle with issues the law would create, such as in-person registration requirements, the length of time juveniles would stay on the registry, and retroactive punishment for offenders already serving their sentences.

Mary Dixon, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, says Ohio’s adoption of the Adam Walsh provisions has spurred about 7,000 individual challenges to the law in that state’s courts. Dixon said one Ohio court found that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of due process.

“You’ll have adults who finished nine-and-a-half years (on the registry) with no new offense and no new violation, who then are bumped to 25 years,” Dixon says. “This means not only that you have to register X number of times per year for all of those additional years, but that all of the additional laws apply: you can’t be in certain places, you can’t have certain jobs, you can’t be around kids. Right now, we have a high level of compliance with our registration laws – around 93 percent – and this creates a very bleak long-term picture for people who are otherwise compliant.”

Haine’s bill would allow a sex offender to petition for removal from the registry if the victim was between 13 and 17 years old and the offender was less than five years older than the victim. That’s a common situation in Illinois, known as a “Romeo and Juliet” relationship, and a bill to decriminalize it in Illinois failed in the previous legislative session. Under Haine’s bill, the ability to petition for removal from the registry would only kick in after the offender served 10 years on the registry, however, effectively exempting them from the increased registration term of 15 years.

Maloney says that doesn’t do enough to distinguish between offenders who are likely to reoffend and those who aren’t.

“If people don’t know anybody on the registry, they believe they’re all child molesters who are going to reoffend,” Maloney says. “We’re trying to show that there is a difference between actual child molesters and young people who just made a mistake.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at

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