Serving as Massachusetts state auditor doesn’t just mean reviewing finances. A big part of my role, as I often speak about with folks across the state, is reviewing the performance and efficacy of the Commonwealth’s agencies and entities. A great example of the responsibility to look beyond number crunching is our office’s recently released audit of the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB).
People are familiar with the concept that Massachusetts registers convicted sex offenders, maintaining a database of where such people live and work in an effort to maintain public safety. This system of public safety is maintained by SORB, a seven-member board appointed by the governor and staffed by more than 70 individuals.
Our recent audit looked at SORB’s operations from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021. Covering that two-year period, my team homed in on whether or not SORB classified sex offenders at least 10 days before they were released from custody, thus ensuring they were assigned an appropriate level. Further, we looked at whether SORB or not used all the resources at their disposal to accurately identify sex offenders who were in violation of maintaining their registration.
I was disappointed to find that SORB underperformed in a way that could have a negative impact upon the public.
While incarcerated sex offenders are supposed to be assigned a classification at least 10 days prior to their release, per state law, SORB failed to do so with approximately one-third of those released during our two-year review window. More concerning, 77 offenders didn’t receive their classification until after they were released.
This lax approach to the law meant those sex offenders’ names, addresses, offenses, and registration statuses were not appropriately posted to SORB’s website for level 2 and 3 sex offenders and were not otherwise available to the public.
Our audit team also identified other vulnerabilities regarding how SORB tracked offenders who have been released from incarceration. Namely, SORB’s database was not kept up to date in all situations, with approximately 1 out of 5 offenders showing incorrect addresses when compared against records maintained by other state departments (such as the addresses the Department of Transitional Assistance records).
Part of the benefit of SORB is that it tracks the location of high-level offenders. By not ensuring that it has the current addresses of sex offenders considered in violation, SORB is not able to consistently communicate information about sex offenders’ whereabouts, their offenses, and their classifications to local law enforcement agencies and the general public. What’s disturbing is that some of these issues were identified when my predecessor last audited SORB. These issues must be immediately addressed.
Our office has recommended that SORB increase its collaboration with correctional facilities to establish more reliable procedures for providing anticipated release dates for incarcerated offenders. We’ve also recommended the implementation of a tracking process that identifies any delays or issues that may arise, to ensure that all sex offenders are assigned final classifications prior to each offender’s release.
For ensuring residential address accuracy, SORB needs to not only work more closely with other state agencies to verify addresses, but also make a point of updating those addresses in their system when they are found.
We will continue to work with SORB and encourage their adoption of practices that maximize public safety.
As always, please feel free to contact my office at any time for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org and 617-727-2075.