States Must Choose: Lose Grant Funding or Face Higher Costs

E-newsletter Issue #47 | May 27, 2010

States face a loss of 10 percent of their federal Byrne Justice Assistance grants if they don’t find a way to comply with the Adam Walsh Act by next year.

Problem is, the cost to implement provisions that would bring them into compliance could cost even more than what they could lose.

California, for instance, will have to fork over nearly $1 million in one-time costs just to obtain and review court records to reclassify sex offenders under the sex offender registration requirements of the Adam Walsh Act, Alisa Klein, public policy consultant for the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers, said Saturday during a session, “The Economics of Compliance with Adam Walsh,” during the first-ever Economic Summit of the States sponsored by The Council of State Governments in New York City.

It’ll take another $400,000 to access and review archived probation records, and nearly $6 million to review laws, Klein said.

While not every state will see costs that large, there will be additional expenditures to comply with the provisions, said Suzanne Brown-McBride, deputy director of CSG’s Justice Center.

That includes paying to review old records going back several years. Some people have been in the justice system a long time, Klein said. But the state must have the records for review.

“You’re going to be digging through files,” said Brown-McBride. “It’s going to look like going through a dusty box somewhere.”

That’s not all.

Once the records are reviewed and information put into registries, states will face additional expenses tracking people.

In states that have implemented the Adam Walsh Act, the changes in tier levels measuring the severity of offenses have vastly increased the number of offenders in the highest classification, Tier 3, according to Andrew Harris, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Tier 3 offenders must check in with the registry at least four times a year. All offenders must check in with the registry when they move.

That creates the need for additional staffing just to keep track of people, Klein said. California cited a need for $9 million more to increase the personnel to handle the additional workload.

And there will be other expenses, such as litigation costs and increased incarceration costs, Klein said. The penalty for an offender failing to register is a one-year jail term under the sex offender provisions, she said.

States are strapped in their budgets right now, and some are questioning whether the 10 percent Byrne grant hit would be the lesser of two budget hits.

Klein said when states recently brought up their concerns about costs with the federal government, they were told to apply for grants to implement the law. And, she said, federal officials told states they could use the 10 percent of the Byrne grants they wouldn’t be losing to implement the law.

That, too, is a problem, according to Brown-McBride.

“You have that 10 percent in your state and you’re using it,” she said.

While the speakers at the summit did not advocate for or against state compliance, they did point out that the primary goal of the act is to create standardization and uniformity among the state sex offender registries, and to promote coordination and uniformity of the systems, Harris said. It’s not about public safety or even cutting recidivism of offenders, Klein said.

“Registration is not supervision,” said Brown-McBride. “Registration is simply acknowledging this is where you live.”


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