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The entire process relies heavily on the honor system: expecting individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes to voluntarily register. Many simply don't. That's why, over that past several years, Georgia lawmakers passed legislation that includes more stringent requirements and lengthy prison terms for violators of the law.
In addition to their physical addresses, state law requires that sex offenders hand over their e-mail addresses, Internet passwords and screen names to local law enforcement each year or face prison time. In some cases, violation of this one law alone could mean a life sentence.
The statewide list of registered sexual offenders is taken from information provided by local county sheriffs' departments, which make a concerted effort to keep their information up-to-date and easily accessible to the general population.
Both the Cobb and DeKalb County Sheriff's Departments have a state-of-the-art database and software tracking system that not only maintains registry information, but will add a concerned citizen to its e-mail list and inform them anytime a sex offender moves to within one mile of their residence or place of business. Concerned parents can even sign up their school, gym, day care, park, or soccer or football field to receive notice if an offender moves into the area.
Cobb County Sheriff's Lt. Tom Hayes says the tracking system also alerts law enforcement when a registered sex offender is booked into jail and provides his department with reminders for keeping tabs on local offenders.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office uses a different tracking system. Simply entering an address will pull up a localized map that pinpoints each registered offender in the area, along with a link to their photo, address and case information.
Fulton County, on the other hand, has a system that's lacking, to say the least.
Searching for information on the Fulton County Sex Offender Registry site can be an exercise in futility. The site requires the name or address of the suspected offender rather than allowing the user to enter the location of a school, home or business and receive information about offenders in the area. In fact, the Fulton County Sex Offender Registry site sends the user directly to the GBI site to search the statewide system for Fulton offenders.
Yet despite the technological advances of some jurisdiction's tracking systems, there's often little that can be done to forewarn victims of sex offenders.
Take the case of 48-year-old Timothy Lyle Chappell. Even though a county tracking system monitored Chappell, it still couldn't prevent the convicted child molester from striking a second time.
Chappell was released from prison last May but was back in the Cobb County jail in June on a probation violation. After his August release, Chappell decided to move in November to DeKalb County, where he promptly registered with DeKalb County Sheriff's Office.
The following month, FBI agents arrested Chappell at the DeKalb County Probation Office on federal charges of sex trafficking involving a 15-year-old girl.
"The list shouldn't exist," says a convicted sex offender who calls himself "The Angry Offender," or TAO, "because it doesn't make sense."
Sex offenders who fail to register or who submit incorrect addresses are living as fugitives, aware of the very real possibility that they could be caught at any time and face severe prison sentences for evading the list. So, why do they choose to risk prison by remaining just beneath law enforcement's radar? Because they feel it's the only way to survive.
Looking over TAO's website, AngryOffender.com, one quickly encounters a convicted sex offender's predictable reaction to the sex offender registry — but also the understandable frustration with which the list is met. It's not a well-balanced site, but one wouldn't expect it to be.
TAO agreed to answer my questions regarding his or her opinions concerning the sex offender registry, but only on the grounds that his or her identity would not be revealed.
TAO is an offender who feels the concept of a sex offender registry is flawed in that it subjects a person convicted of a sex crime to requirements other convicts are spared. Basically, TAO takes issue with the fact that those convicted of sex crimes must continue to pay their debt to society even after completing prison sentences and probation.
TAO's major problem with the registry, unsurprisingly, is the severity of the punishment when an offender fails to register.
"Under the current system, you may get three months for a count of possession of child pornography, yet you can get 10-plus years for failure to register after that conviction," TAO says. "It's a clear case of the punishment not even fitting the crime."
In Georgia, the offender has 72 hours following conviction or a change of residence to notify the local sheriff of his or her address or face the decade-long prison term. That's the punishment for the first time an offender fails to register. The second offense can be punishable by life in prison. For that reason, many offenders have become transient, avoiding the "permanent address" status and, therefore, the requirement to provide an address to authorities.
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