Ohio latest state to consider violent-offender registry

Associated Press


In the desperate hours after a University of Toledo student disappeared while bicycling this summer, her friends scanned the state’s list of sex offenders and started knocking on doors. But their search didn’t lead them down the road to an ex-con who had spent time in prison for abducting another woman – because he had never been convicted of a sex crime.

Now the family of Sierah Joughin, who investigators say was abducted and killed by a neighbor with a hidden past, wants Ohio lawmakers to follow the lead of at least seven other states that track all sorts of violent offenders.

“If you’re trying to get back in society, and you’re trying to be a productive member of society, you have to own what you did,” said Joughin’s mother, Sheila Vaculik. “You’re there for a reason, and you put yourself there for a reason.”

The emotional pull of crimes that spawned sex-offender registries in the 1990s has brought about these more publicly accessible lists that keep tabs on a wider range of offenders – from murderers to meth users – once they’re out of prison. A nationwide review by The Associated Press found that such registries have grown over the past decade and that more proposals are being considered.

Backers say helping people know more about their neighbors will make them safer. Yet studies have shown offender registries do little to reduce crime.

Anti-domestic violence groups in states that have considered expanded registries suggest that money spent to maintain them would be better used on programs to stop violence before it happens. Keeping sex-offender lists updated alone costs well over $1 million each year for many states, a price partially covered by fees offenders must pay.

Some researchers contend the lists, searchable online, can prevent offenders from finding jobs and homes, making it more likely they’ll offend again.

“When someone comes out of prison, we want them to be successful,” said Alissa Ackerman, a criminal-justice professor at the University of Washington. “We want them to be part of society. Putting people on registries like this makes it next to impossible to do.”

Ohio lawmakers looking into the idea have not settled on a plan and say they want to make sure law enforcement backs it.

Pennsylvania and Texas are among states that have debated establishing a domestic-violence registry within the past few years.

A few registries go beyond violent crimes. Illinois, Tennessee and Minnesota have them for meth-related crimes, while Ohio has one for people convicted of drunken driving at least five times.

“In this day and age, you can’t have enough information about people coming into your lives,” said New York state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, who was unsuccessful in several attempts to establish a violent-offender registry.

The increasing number of offender registries can be traced to a basic need to control threats around us, said Molly Wilson, a law professor at St. Louis University.

“The data doesn’t bear it out that the registries make people safer, but it does make them happier,” she said.

Prosecutors plan to pursue the death penalty against James Worley, the ex-con who has pleaded not guilty to killing Joughin, 20, and is scheduled to go on trial next year. He and his attorneys have declined to comment.