Sex Offender Database
The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994 was the first federal law to dictate that local jurisdictions require sex offenders to register with law enforcement agencies. However, while law enforcement agencies had this information, it was not considered public information and was not available to the general public. This changed with the passage of Megan’s Law, a federal law that required law enforcement authorities to make sex offender registration information available to the general public. Until that point, many states had been lax in their registration requirements, so that the passage of Megan’s Law actually enforced both the registration and the publication requirements.
While Megan’s Law is a federal law, it is up to the individual states to determine who is a sex offender and what offenses require registration. States also determine what information is available and how it will be made available to the public. Most states maintain internet databases with information on sex offenders, but there is no requirement that they do so. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking maintains both internet and mobile-app based versions of its NSOPW, which is a gateway site that allows access to individual state registries. Generally, these databases contain the same basic information: offender name, last known address, a photo, offense of conviction, and dates of incarceration. Some registries may provide additional details about an offense, while other registries will simply name the offense of conviction. Offenders are required to notify law enforcement of any changes in address or changes in employment. Registration requirements may be limited to a certain post-conviction or post-release time period, but some offenses trigger lifelong registration requirements. The two main criticisms of sex offender registries are that they: equate all sexual offenders and provide people with a false sense of security, since most sex offenders are never charged with a crime.