By Chad Miller
Offenders required to carry label even after serving sentence
Editor's note: The sex offender mentioned in this story agreed to speak to the Daily Press on the condition of anonymity. His name has been changed in the story to preserve his anonymity.
Meet Tom. Tom is a successful local business owner. He said he decided to go into business for himself because he had difficulty getting hired to work in several career fields because of one fact he was required to disclose to potential employers. Tom is a registered sex offender. He said he had been on the Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC) website as a sex offender for more than 10 years.
Tom said at the time he committed his offense, he was on "a large scholarship" to college and had dreams of furthering his education. However, he said that all changed when had "consensual sex" with a teenage girl.
"I had goals and dreams," Tom said. "But now I can't do anything. I would've liked to have gone to law school, but I can't do that. I actually considered becoming a realtor. But I can't get a real estate license. There's so many things you can't do [as a registered sex offender] to better your life."
Tom did not deny what he did was "wrong." He said he was in his early 20s at the time of his offense.
"For lack of better terms... I was a stupid, horny kid," Tom said. "When I was arrested, I told the police exactly what happened. I never denied anything. I'm not looking for sympathy saying I did no wrong. What I am looking for is somebody to step back and say 'Wait a minute. We've taken somebody's entire life away from them.'"
After the assessment process sex offenders are required to go through to determine their risk level, Tom was classified as a Level 2 (moderate risk) offender. He said the stigma associated with his classification was difficult to live with.
"I had people driving slowly by my house and looking at it [when I first moved to Paragould]," Tom said. "They would drive by my house and yell 'child molester,' or 'baby raper.' I don't have restrictions on where I can live. I'm allowed to go the park and do those things that Level 3 and 4 [sex offenders] are not."
He said he had to remain on the sex offender registry for a minimum of 15 years before he could possibly have his name removed. He said he felt the assessment process might need to be re-examined.
"People see the list [of registered sex offenders] and they don't break it down into levels or what happened," Tom said. "All they [think] is 'This guy is on the list. He's a child molester.' But there are people on the list who were canoeing down the river and they [urinate] off the canoe and somebody sees them. Well, now they're on the list because they exposed themselves to an underage person. It's ridiculous that something like that has now become an instant minimum 15-year sentence."
Tom said he served less than a year in prison for his crime. He said he had no criminal record before his crime or since. However, he said he felt being on the list was another punishment.
"They say that being on the list isn't a punishment," Tom said. "I'm sorry... being on the list is much worse than my punishment was. It [my crime] was a Class D felony, which is the lowest level felony you can get, and here I sit for 15 years."
Tom said normally Level 2 offenders were not listed on the ACIC website. However, he said the reason he was on the website was because the crime occurred in the victim's home, which made it an "aggravated" offense.
"People get an idea in their head of what a sex offender is — which is this greasy-haired [man] in a van with a bag of candy and a teddy bear," Tom said. "So, they push and push for stronger laws."
Paragould Police Capt. Greg Trout said state law required sex offenders to notify local law enforcement whenever they moved from one jurisdiction to another and even when they moved within that agency's jurisdiction. He said some sex offenders not only had to register their residence, but also where they worked or any other place they might "spend a significant amount of time."
"If they change their address, they must notify [local law enforcement] 10 days in advance," Trout said. "Some [offenders] are restricted from living in certain areas. Level 3 and Level 4 offenders are restricted from living within 2,000 feet of a daycare, park, school and things like that. Sometimes, we have to physically look at the house they live in and figure out if it's within 2,000 feet of one of those locations."
Second Judicial District deputy prosecutor Kimberly Dale said she felt some laws concerning sex offender registration needed to be changed. She said there was a difference between a young man dating a teenage girl and a sexual predator who looked for victims.
"One thing I always want to be careful of any time I have someone who's pleading to a sex-related crime, and may have to register as a sex offender, is I want to make sure that is someone I really believe the public needs to be aware of," Dale said. "The last thing I want is for someone to be a registered sex offender and them not really be a harm to society or somebody that society doesn't need to waste their time being concerned about."
"Let's say you've got 100 people who, by virtue of the law, have to be a registered sex offender," Dale added. "Well, if we sat down and looked at the initial offense they plead to, we might determine that really only 30 of them were people society needed to be aware of. I know legislators are always really quick to pass a new bill that has to do with a sex offender, but it might [affect] someone the public would not be concerned about. I think [the law] is not harsh enough to those that need it and sometimes, I think it's too harsh on those that we shouldn't be concerned about."