States and cities have begun aggressive campaigns to enforce sex-offender registration laws, arresting dozens of offenders who have failed to tell police their whereabouts after being released from prison, USA Today reports. The crackdowns appear to be driven by increasing frustration over the inability by law enforcement to keep track of freed sex offenders, some of whom have returned to crime. The U.S. government and every state but Hawaii requires convicted rapists, child molesters, and other sex offenders to register their home addresses and other personal information, usually each year. The information is required to be made available to the public. In 41 states, the information must be posted on the Internet. The laws are known as Megan’s laws, after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl killed in 1994 by a child molester who, unknown to her parents, had moved to their New Jersey neighborhood.
A survey by Parents for Megan’s Laws, an advocacy group based in Stony Brook, N.Y., found last year that at least a quarter of the nation’s estimated 460,000 sex offenders who were released had not registered or provided updated information as required. Some examples of recent enforcement: Since February, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office has led a crackdown that produced more than 100 arrests; local police in more than a dozen other states from New Jersey to California have conducted “sweeps” to find unregistered sex offenders; in Washington state, officials began last year to compare addresses given by sex offenders with U.S. Postal Service records to try to find sex offenders who move without notifying authorities. They’ve caught at least one so far. The enforcement efforts are “a good thing, particularly since we’ve had so little of it,” says Laura Ahearn, director of Parents for Megan’s Laws. “On the other hand, it also points up some of the major problems states have had in keeping up their databases.”