Indian Tribes Lag on Sex Offender Registration

March 11, 2010 - 9:34 AM
States and tribes have until this summer to implement the registration and notification systems required under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, but many are expected to seek extensions.
Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M. (AP) - Only Ohio and Native American tribes in Washington and Oregon have so far met the deadline to comply with a federal law passed nearly three years ago to coordinate and expand sex offender registration nationwide, a U.S. Justice Department official said Wednesday.
 
States and tribes have until this summer to implement the registration and notification systems required under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, but many are expected to seek extensions, said Stephanie LoConto, a senior policy adviser with the agency's office that coordinates sex offender registration and tracking.
 
"It's frustrating because the law was passed with no money, really, and we have these connectivity issues with DNA and fingerprints. So we're just trying to be the little engine that could and do the best we can," LoConto said.
 
Besides Ohio, the confederated tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon and the Yakama Nation in Washington are in compliance with the law. New Mexico and Florida are close, and several tribes have submitted their plans to federal officials for review.
 
Other tribes, however, have expressed concerns about their sovereignty being compromised and the costs associated with meeting some of the law's requirements.
 
Sex offender registration was among the topics at a three-day symposium focused on the protection of children in Indian communities. The event drew about 300 tribal representatives, law enforcement officers, social workers and others from across the nation.
 
The Adam Walsh Act, named after the slain son of "America's Most Wanted" television host John Walsh, requires convicted violent sex offenders to register with local authorities, increases punishments for some federal crimes against children and strengthens child pornography protections.
 
The law gave tribes until July 27, 2007, to participate in an integrated, uniform registry system, and it allowed states to register sex offenders living in Indian Country in cases where tribes did not opt in to the system.
 
Tribes and states originally had until July 2009 to create a registry that includes offender descriptions, photographs, fingerprints, criminal history and DNA samples, as well as notify the community and create a Web site to make offender information available to the public. But federal officials pushed that deadline back to this July.
 
Tribes and states also can apply for a one-year extension.
 
Nearly 200 tribes have worked to come into compliance, but many have run into obstacles on the state or local level. In Arizona, for instance, state law prevents tribes from adding information about sex offenders, such as DNA and fingerprints, to the national crime databases, said Jesse Crabtree, a detective with the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation police.
 
"We want to protect our kids at Fort McDowell and the cities and the state of Arizona also want to protect their kids, so it's just a matter of coordinating that," Crabtree said. "Hopefully, with a little more work we can bridge those barriers and overcome them."
 
It's unclear how many sex offenders live in Indian county, but the latest statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children put the nationwide total at more than 700,000.
 
Ernie Allen, the center's president, said it's no surprise states and tribes need more time to comply with the law given budget shortfalls and a lack of resources. He said his group is pushing Congress to release more funding to help create a seamless, nationwide net for tracking offenders more quickly.
 
"It should be hard to imagine something of a higher priority than protecting our children," Allen said.