We recently had occasion to take a very close look at the history and development of the statutory scheme that creates and directs Utah’s Sex Offender & Kidnap Offender Registry. The differences between the registry in earlier years and today are noteworthy.
First of all, and as one might expect, the statute outlining the registry has grown more and more elaborate, intricate, and complex. In the early days of the registry, its statutory text consisted of one code section occupying less than one page of statute with a word count of under 1,000. (Ut. Code § 77-27-21.5 (1987)) In comparison, the current version of the statute has twelve sections, constitutes roughly six full pages of statute, and has a word count of around 6,000. (Ut. Code § 77-41-101, et seq. (2016))
More remarkable, though, is the stated purpose or directive of the registry. In 1987, the purpose of the registry was “to assist in investigating sex-related crimes and in apprehending offenders . . . ” (Ut. Code § 77-27-21.5(2) (1987)). Access was limited to “law enforcement agencies in [Utah] and other states . . .,” and the administrator of the registry, the Department of Corrections, was charged with “[establishing] security systems to ensure that only authorized personnel may gain access to information gathered [through the registry].”
In 1989, access was extended to include the Utah State Office of Education along with law enforcement agencies. In 1996, access was again expanded to include law enforcement agencies, the Utah State Office of Education, and any individual who was a “victim of a sexual offense or a resident in a location where a sex offender is suspected to reside” who requested in writing information about a sex offender from the Department of Corrections (Ut. Code § 77-27-21.5(1)(c) (1996)). Despite this increase in accessibility, the Department of Corrections was still charged with ensuring that registry information was only accessible to authorized personnel and qualified petitioners.
Then, in 1998, the registry database was opened to the general public. While the purpose of the registry remained “to assist in investigating sex-related crimes and in apprehending offenders,” (Ut. Code § 77-27-21.5(2) (1998)), the charge to the Department of Corrections changed from ensuring only authorized or qualified personnel accessed the information to “[making] information collected and developed under . . . [the registry] available to the public.” (Ut. Code § 77-27-21.5(2)(b) (1998)).
Additionally, from 1987 to 1991, information gathered for the registry was to be treated as “confidential” government records. From 1992 to 1998, the classification level was reduced to “private, controlled, or protected” under the Government Records Access and Management Act. In contrast, in 1998, the statute was amended to read, “Notwithstanding . . . [the] Government Records Access and Management Act, information . . . collected and released under . . . [the registry] is public information.” (Ut. Code § 77-27-21.5(13)).
This is not a critique of the current system, purpose, or objective of the registry. Our purpose in writing is only to note the findings that a historical survey of the registry discovers. We do know, though, that navigating the registry can be confusing. If you need assistance understanding Utah’s Sex Offender & Kidnap Offender Registry registration requirements, please contact an attorney.