By A.J. Higgins
The state of Maine is taking steps to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, a comprehensive, nationwide sex offender registration system enacted back in 2006. The Maine Legislature has already passed a law implementing a three-tiered offender classification system to replace the existing two-tier model. The law also created a new commission to study risk assessment of sex offenders in an effort ot reduce recidivism. The panel held its first meeting today, and A.J. Higgins was there.
One mission of the nine-member Sex Offender Risk Assessment Advisory Commission is to study methods to predict the risk of recidivism for any given sex offender. As a starting point, lawmakers have directed the commission to take a good look at the expansive range of policies and standards adopted by the Colorado Sex Offender Notification Board.
"It's sex offenders A to Z in the state of Colorado," says Laura Yustak Smith, an assistant attorney general who will chair the Maine commission. The commission is looking at how the Colorado board makes policy on registration, as well as on treatment and supervision of sex offenders.
The new commission will assess whether a Colorado-style model could work in Maine - and Yustak Smith says there's not a lot of time to complete the work.
"We have a deadline of January 5th to report back to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to provide them with a summary of how Colorado's Sex Offender Management Board functions," Yustak Smith says.
"I think Colorado has been ahead of the curve a bit," says Rep. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat and a member of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Haskell sponsored the bill that created the Sex Offender Risk Assessment Commission and a new three-tier classification system for offenders that will become effective in January.
Under the existing system, offenders were classified as either 10-year registrants, or lifetime registrations. The new system adds a third option - a 25-year registrant. There are also categories based on the severity of the offense, which Haskell says is designed to bring Maine more into line with the federal Adam Walsh Act that set standards for monitoring sex offenders.
Haskell says her original bill lacked an adequate risk assessment component. "The original bill itself created within it a ranking based on the risk of reoffense," Haskell says. "As the committee began to look at that risk of reoffense, it became clear that there were not long-term studies on risk status in order to know whether or not they were going to be effective."
Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is also a member of the Sex Offender Risk Assessment Advisory Commission. She represents Maine's sexual assault support centers and hopes the commission can help answer a question she's posed to legislators for the last 10 years.
"How do we think comprehensively about risk assessment as part of how we manage sex offenders in our communities?" Ward Saxl says. "And it's a complex issue."
As of July, the U.S. Justice Department reported only 15 states had substantially implemented the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act requirements of the federal Adam Walsh Act.