It is the state auditor’s job to assess how well agencies and policies are fulfilling their mission in the interests of the taxpayers. In theory and over time, this watchdog role takes the auditor’s office to every corner of the bureaucracy, including some that are of particular sensitivity for the public.
Nothing is more certainly sensitive for Vermonters than the need to keep vulnerable individuals safe from sexual predators.
Under Doug Hoffer, the auditor’s office has just taken a second look at Vermont’s Sex Offender Registry, first examined in 2010. Numerous faults and recommendations emerged from that 2010 review, and Hoffer wanted to determine whether or not the recommendations had been successfully implemented, and the identified issues resolved.
The findings are not encouraging.
Hoffer’s team identified more than 250 instances of critical errors in the current Sex Offender Registry (11% of the total number of entries), calling into question its reliability as a whole. Significantly, the 2014 audit discovered that recommendations made in the 2010 audit still have not been fully implemented, despite some improvements having been made.
“Improper categorization and errors in the system don’t serve the public, which seeks reliable information, or offenders, who are sometimes mislabeled,” Auditor Hoffer said. “The registry is meant to provide accurate information to the public and protect the rights of people in the system. Presently, the system doesn’t appear to be doing this as well as it should.”
Act 58, adopted in 2009 expanded the Sex Offender Registry; but cautioned that this was not to be undertaken lightly. One significant obstacle to making the Registry more accessible and effective is a provision in the law that ties electronic posting of the Sex Offender Registry to a successful audit of the procedures that are in place to ensure its accuracy.
(2) Sec. 14 of this act shall take effect July 1, 2010, provided that Sec. 14 shall not take effect until the state auditor, in consultation with the department of public safety and the department of information and innovation technology, has provided a favorable performance audit regarding the Internet sex offender registry to the senate and house committees on judiciary, the house committee on corrections and institutions, and the joint committee on corrections oversight. Approved: June 1, 2009
Hoffer points out that, once again, the auditors office has avoided a determination of outright “failure.”
By tying implementation to a positive audit outcome, the legislative mandate, as written, has inadvertently hamstrung the process. It is the legislature who must find a path to making the electronic posting happen for Vermont just as quickly as possible; and the agencies involved must be held fully accountable for the reliability of the electronic registry.
We recommend that the Legislature require that the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, and the Court Administrator periodically report on the progress of corrective actions being taken to improve the reliability of the SOR.
We recommend that the Legislature require that the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, before posting addresses to the Internet SOR, certify that the process that is established to support this function will ensure that addresses of only those offenders that meet the statutory requirements will be posted.