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Sex offender registry questions

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11/30/2015 - If knowledge is power, then it would seem that knowing the names, addresses and other identifying information of some 38,521 state-registered sex ­offenders in Michigan, including more than 1,800 in Oakland County, would help give the public the ability to keep themselves and their children safe.

"Certainly it takes resources, but when given a list of convicted sex offenders, it's a great resource for people to know where they are living," said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard who helped draft Michigan's initial Sex Offender Registry Act established in 1994, as a state senator.

Since the law drafted by Bouchard was enacted, the state's sex offender registry has undergone several changes beyond who has access to the database. Based on their offense, offenders must register for 15 years, 25 years or for life. Registrants must provide physical addresses and phone numbers of where they live and work, the vehicles they drive and Internet identifiers, such as e-mail addresses or online identities. Those required to register are also prohibited from living, working or loitering within a "school safety zone," or within 1,000 feet of a school, and must adhere to a list of other requirements.

"I knew when we wrote it there would be constant monitoring of the system to make it more effective and productive for the public because information is power," Bouchard said. "If you have a convicted pedophile on your block, the public has a right to know that, the same way they should know if there's a toxic waste dump at a playground."

Bouchard said the registry empowers the public, and has even helped law enforcement agencies locate missing children. However, a growing number of scholarly researchers, attorneys and public officials, as well as a federal court ruling earlier this year, are spurring changes to the state's registry.

Critics of Michigan's sex offender registry law say it gives the public a false sense of safety; forces people to register who logically shouldn't be required; does little to reduce rates of re-offense, or recidivism; and puts the general public in more danger. Further, a federal court in March of this year found that some parts of the law are unconstitutional, and are so complicated that it is impossible for some offenders to comply.

"We have the fourth largest registry in the country, and that is because we have a lot of people that don't belong there," said Miriam Aukerman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

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