By PHIL DRAKE
HELENA – The state Attorney General’s office is reallocating resources within the Department of Justice to help local agencies locate and prosecute sexual and violent offenders who have not verified their addresses, according to a recent a letter by a state official.
The department has also started sending local law enforcement (LLE) agencies monthly notices citing all offenders who have not verified their address.
In an Oct. 26 letter to Legislative Auditor Tori Hunthausen, Mike Batista, administrator with the Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Investigations, updates actions taken to improve issues outlined in a state audit of the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry (SVOR). He said one of those findings was that more than 1,400 violent and/or sexual offenders missed deadlines in returning Address Verification Letters (AVL) sent to them by the DOJ.
“The website now shows offenders who have not returned the AVLs as ‘Noncompliant/Address Verification Overdue,’” Batista wrote. “Obviously any changes to an offender’s status will be coordinated between LLE and the SVOR staff and reflected on the website.”
Batista said state law required AVL confirmation within 10 days of receiving the letter. And he said through “continued partnerships” the compliance rates would improve in Montana.
In June, Montana Watchdog reported that the Legislative Audit Committee learned that 26 percent of Montana’s 5,000 sexual or violent offenders had not verified their address within their deadlines.
Sean Edgar of the Legislative Audit Division noted that overdue offenders were not flagged so that law enforcement would be aware they failed to register. The SVOR allows the public and state and local law enforcement to track the whereabouts of offenders.
He told the committee that of the 4,964 offenders in the registry, 1,289 (about 26 percent) had not returned their AVL to the Department of Justice after 15 days and were not flagged by the SVOR. And 11 percent were more than six months delinquent in returning their AVLs and had not been flagged.
The audit noted that in November 2010 there were 120,000 searches and 100,000 law enforcement searches of the SVOR registry.
Attorney General Steve Bullock told the committee in June his department relies on the cooperation of local law enforcement to “make sure the integrity” of the website is maintained.
“The buck stops here for running the registry,” Bullock said, but added all of law enforcement had to work together to gather the information.
Officials said 35 percent of the people who did not respond to the letter were in jail and the other 65 percent said they never got the letter. The audit also noted seven people listed in the system had died.
The state Legislature enacted registration for sex offenders and required a central registry maintained by the Department of Corrections, according to the audit. The program was moved to the DOJ in 1997. Also, tier levels were added for sexual offenders, based on a determination by the sentencing court on the likelihood the offender would commit additional crimes.
Congress passed legislation in 1994 requiring states to create sex offender registries. Montana is one of a few states to register violent offenders as well as sexual offenders.