ABC2 INVESTIGATORS UNCOVER A FLAW IN HOW THE STATE'S SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY TRACKS INMATES IN CUSTODY. THE MISTAKES WE'VE UNCOVERED SHOW NOT ONLY IS THE STATE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR NOTIFYING WHEN OFFENDERS ARE RELEASED FROM LOCAL JAILS, BUT THAT THE FAILURES TO UPDATE THE REGISTRY PUT PEOPLE AT RISK.
In September people looking for convicted sex offender Jonathan Bower wouldn't think they’d have to look hard to find him. The Maryland Sex Offender Registry said he was in jail. But ABC2 Investigators discovered the registry you rely on was wrong .
Bower himself helped us confirm the registry was incorrect. During a visit to his house in Glen Burnie, Bower told us, “I’ve been home. I haven't been locked up."
Bower had been living at home since records show he was released from the Anne Arundel County Detention Center on May 21. But that jail is exactly where the Maryland Sex Offender Registry said he was still living three and a half months later.
Bower is one of many sex offenders found on the streets and undetected on the registry. The news was disappointing to Anne Arundel’s Pat Parrish. She says she checks the state registry twice a week, looking for potential offenders in her neighborhood.
"You've got to keep your eye on them, know where they're at," Parrish said.
The retiree is so familiar with the registry that over the summer she used it to identify and turn in a sex offender she saw taking a boy into the woods by her home. As Parrish scrolls through the pictures, she says she only takes comfort when she spots one word next to an offender: incarcerated.
"That person is in jail, so we don't have to worry about them," Parrish said.
But ABC2 Investigators found reason to worry, finding dozens of sex offenders whose registry pages were wrong about where they lived. Some of the offenders were listed as behind bars although they had actually been out of jail for weeks or months.
Christopher Hawkins is one example. He was convicted of a third-degree sex offense and was listed as living at the Prince George’s County Detention Center. But multiple records show he was actually free.
The profile for Antonio Edwards was also incorrect. Edwards, a convicted rapist who will be on the registry for life, was listed in the Baltimore County Detention Center as of early September. But we found he’d been on the street since his release in July.
Edwards is a lost inmate who still hasn't been found. The registry shows there’s now a warrant for his arrest. He’s been labeled as an absconder.
We took our findings from cases like Hawkins and Edwards to Lisae Jordan, the Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“With the registry, the errors you've uncovered here, we're grateful that you found them because that's really a problem," Jordan said.
It’s a systematic problem ABC2 News discovered by putting a sampling of Maryland's 1,500 incarcerated offenders through various government databases. The state's registry may have listed them as being in jail, but we used the Maryland Inmate Locator, Maryland Judiciary Case Search, the victim notification service VINE and even individual phone calls to detention centers to determine offenders we believed were no longer in custody were in fact out on the street.
• ABC2's Joce Sterm speaks to WYPR (NPR) about the issue » LISTEN
"When we tell the public here's information about where these sex offenders are, that information should be correct and it's really appalling that it's not," Jordan said.
Russell Butler, the Executive Director of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, says he was disturbed by our findings. He believes the failure to give victims, and the public, current and correct information about offenders could put people at risk.
“If this is a person who has harmed you, they may want retribution," he said. "They may want to re-victimize you, so you need to know they are out on the street."
Jordan also expressed confusion as to why it was so difficult to keep track of offenders, telling ABC2, "I don't understand why this is happening. These are people who are in state custody. We should know where they are."
In the sample group we supplied to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, 20 percent of the inmates we found were actually on the street had been in state facilities, so there should have been little problem updating the registry.
The department was unaware of the releases until we pointed them out. Spokesman Rick Binetti blamed the mistake on “human error”.
Additional offenders we uncovered were let go from local detention centers. Those situations, according to Sex Offender Registry Manager Elizabeth Bartholomew, are not the responsibility of the state. She says, by law, the facility that housed the offender and the offender himself, are responsible for providing notification about the release so the registry can be updated.
But as we found, that doesn’t always happen. “Periodically there are people that get missed and the reasons they get missed are myriad," said Bartholomew.
One big reason offenders could be missed is that the state and local databases that track inmates, from the courts to the jails to the registry, all use different systems that speak different languages.
"The thing that needs to happen is linkages between databases," Bartholomew said.
She indicates there’s a need to link databases because at the moment when an offender walks out of a state prison or local detention center, there are not automatic updates from the supervising authorities.
But Bartholomew says the state has been in the process of using $600,000 in federal funding to update the system and bring various agencies onto the same page. The goal is preventing mistakes like the ones we found from appearing on a registry that falls under the state banner.
“The registry is my responsibility and I take it very personally," Bartholomew told us.
Pat Parrish also takes the registry personally, spending her days in retirement trolling the pages. If the state falls down on the job tracking the man she helped put behind bars, she says she'll be watching.
"He's in jail. Hopefully he'll be there for a long time. If he gets out, I'll know he's out. I'll be on him like white on rice," Parrish said.
ABC2 reached out to the administrators and superintendents of the local detention centers featured in our story. Terry Kokolis, Superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, tells us there’s room for improvement in the sex offender tracking system and he wants to be part of an effort to find fail safe methods.
Kokolis says the state registry was faxed notification of Jonathan Bower’s release but that employees of the detention center did not update the database. He tells ABC2 the state contacted the detention center the day we supplied our list, asking if Bower and other inmates we inquired about were in custody. But he says he was not provided a reason for the call or any instruction about the need to update the registry because it was outdated. At the time of the call Kokolis says the facility was unaware Bower’s page still listed him as living at the detention center and the state did not indicate there was an issue with his profile.
Ellen Kobler, spokeswoman for Baltimore County, sent ABC2 this statement: “Baltimore County Department of Corrections followed its practice to register the sex offender and notify the State's Sex Offender Registry Unit (SOR), Baltimore County Police and Baltimore City Police. Additionally, the Department advised the offender of his obligations and had him sign an acknowledgment indicating his understanding of the same. This occurred on June 18 and the offender was next scheduled to re-register on September 18.
On July 22 the inmate was released at court on the case for which he was being held. To update the State's Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) the case was closed-out. To protect the public, the notice was posted on Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) system. The Department followed its standard operating procedure believing that this meets the requirements of the law as outlined under Criminal Procedure. Additionally, this process was discussed with the State's SOR Unit and they provided written approval (attached) to the County's notification procedures. As you will see in the attached February 9, 2011 email, the State approved our procedures; so that is why it has been our practice.”
Kobler tells ABC2 that as of Oct. 24, an automatic notification will be sent to the Sex Offender Registry unit on the next business day following the release of any inmate on the registry.
Prince George’s County’s Detention Center referred us to the county’s police department for a comment. We did not hear back after asking for a response to our findings.
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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