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Published: Saturday, 5/21/2005

Sex-offender registries in 48 states to be linked


Most of the nation s sex offenders soon will be easier to track across state lines through a public Web site set up by the federal government making it easier for citizens to check out everyone from new neighbors to prospective baby-sitters.

Education is key in protecting children, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said in lauding the plan that was announced yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Like most states, Michigan and Ohio maintain a publicly accessible, statewide database of offenders.

But to find out information on a new resident of the state, one must check registries in other states.

The new Web site would act as a sort of search engine, linking lists in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

A user would type in a name and be automatically routed to any state registry that lists that name, said Pete Pierce, a Justice Department spokesman.

The national site is expected to be publicly accessible within 60 days, he said. Participation by the states is voluntary.

The Justice Department Web site is www.ojp.usdoj.gov/.

Michigan State Police, which tracks the state s nearly 37,000 sex offenders, is considering linking its state registry to the national Web site, said spokesman Shanon Akans.

Ohio s registry, which offers its users a mapping system and automatic e-mail notifications when sex offenders move nearby, is one of four states already hooked into the new site. Also linked are Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The site could be valuable for law enforcement in keeping tabs on transient offenders.

Law enforcement often must make phone calls to other jurisdictions about offenders who move in from out-of-state.

A national Web site could reduce that work to a few keystrokes, said Lt. Greg Wojciechowski of the Lucas County Sheriff s Office.

Still, others wonder if the new Web site is simply another piece of a flawed law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized Ohio s oft-changing Sex Offender Registration and Notification law.

Among its problems are mistakes that creep into the state s registry, said Jeff Gamso, a Toledo attorney and legal director of ACLU of Ohio.

Compounding errors doesn t strike me as a terribly good idea, he said.

Moreover, a national Web site could further stifle an ex-inmate s attempts to become productive again.

The law already limits where offenders can live, and some have complained they have been unable to find a job because of the publication of their past as sex offenders.

We need to find ways to integrate them and not to ostracize them and inhibit them from coming back into society, Mr. Gamso said.

Contact Robin Erb at:robinerb@theblade.comor 419-724-6133.

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