Almost twice as many of Lee County’s 72 registered sex offenders live outside the city of Tupelo as within it.
Classified by race, 32 are black, 40 are white.
One is a woman.
And, as of late last week, five were in jail, serving sentences.
Recently, public attention refocused on sex offenders when police raided the California home of convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and freed Jaycee Lee Dugar, a girl who had been kidnapped 18 years earlier.
“I’ve never seen anything like that around here,” said Cpl. Donna Franks of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, a 17-year veteran of working cases of crimes against women and children, as well as keeping track of sex offenders.
But she said it’s a full-time job keeping up with those offenders and ensuring they’re in line with state reporting laws.
“We get a good bit of communication about them with citizens,” Franks noted, saying they provide new information about offenders, especially if they’re living somewhere different from what’s been reported.
At least 10 people in Lee County have seen sentenced in recent years for failing to register, Franks noted.
Since 1994, U.S. law requires all states to keep a sex offender and crimes-against-children registry. The law has undergone three major amendments since then, and in 2000, offenders were required to report if they enrolled or worked at an institution of higher education.
555 in region
Mississippi’s registry, with 6,000 listings, is maintained by the Department of Public Safety and provides public access to the names, crimes and locations of convicted offenders, when they first enter the data system. The registry is at www.sor.mdps.state.ms.us.
In Mississippi, all offenders must personally appear at driver’s license stations to re-register and verify their information every 90 days. Failure to do so is a felony, punishable by a fine, imprisonment or both. The state also suspends driving license or privilege.
“I use the registry daily,” Franks said.
According to Mississippi’s Sex Offender Registry, some 555 reside in Northeast Mississippi’s 14 counties. The number is skewed a bit by nearly 100 in the Marshall County Correctional Facility.
On average, minus Marshall County, each of the region’s counties has about 35 on the registry.
Lee County leads the list with 72, although five are serving time in the Lee County Jail. Benton County has the least at 11.
Nationwide, as states and municipalities enact laws that bar registered sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds and other places where children congregate, officials say many are forced to live in more remote or rural areas.
Franks agrees it’s easier for offenders to find a residence outside the city. Her office maintains maps to where offenders are prohibited from living, but she also notes that an offender cannot be forced to move from a residence, if he or she lived there prior to conviction.
That was the case when police rescued Dugard on Aug. 26 from an unincorporated area near a distressed city just outside San Francisco. Authorities also discovered more than 100 other sex offenders attracted to that one ZIP code, 94509.
In other places like Florida, researchers say the inability to find homes has put released offenders living under freeway bridges, near swamps or in isolated trailer parks.
A look at Lee County sex offender addresses doesn’t show any particular patterns for “clusters,” but highest concentrations of former offenders appear to be in Verona, the Mooreville-Lake Piomingo area and in Tupelo from Crosstown up Gloster Street to McCullough Boulevard.
Who are they?
Age varies widely among Lee County’s 72 registered sex offenders, from 18 to 76. The largest age groups are 21 between 30-39 and 18 from 40-47.
They’ve committed crimes from sexual assault to possession of child pornography.
By far the top crimes committed are sexual battery at 24 and touching a child/other for lustful purposes, 21. Eight are for rape. Twenty-five committed criminal sexual conduct outside Mississippi, but they must register here because they live here.
Some offenders must register through their lifetime for crimes like rape, sexual assault and exploitation of children. But some can petition to come off the list after 10 years on Mississippi’s list.
Among Lee County’s registrations, 34 were convicted before 2000.
But Franks said few are likely to come off the list because it’s not uncommon for some to miss their periodic notification deadlines and have the clock start over.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 created a national registration and notification system under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The U.S. has 674,000 convicted sex offenders, with an estimated 100,000 who have failed to register.
But these registries have drawn criticism for endangering the people they list.
“Sex offender laws are predicated on the widespread assumption that most people convicted of sex offenses will continue to commit such crimes, if given the opportunity,” said 2007 report from Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.
In fact, HRW insists, three out of four former sex offenders do not re-offend and most sex crimes are not committed by former offenders.
“Registrants and their families have been hounded from their homes … assaulted, stabbed and had their homes burned by neighbors or strangers who discovered their status as a previously convicted sex offender,” HRW noted in its concerns about public access to the lists. HRW urges limiting access just to law enforcement.
But Franks thinks the information available on the public registry is helpful.
“It helps the public be more aware of who is living in their neighborhood,” she said.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.