Some say Alaska is a ‘haven’ for sex offenders until laws change

Under current laws, some newcomers to the state can refuse to register with the Department of Public Safety
Some say Alaska is a ‘haven’ for sex offenders until laws change
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:46 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed legislation to close a gap in the state’s sex offender registry laws, H.B. 68 and S.B. 65.

The proposed change would require sex offenders moving to Alaska to register in the state if they are already required to register in their home state, as Gov. Dunleavy described in a Feb. 7 letter to Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton (R-Wasilla).

“Under existing law, a sex offender who is required to register in their state of conviction is not always required to register in Alaska,” Dunleavy wrote. “This makes Alaska attractive to offenders who seek to avoid registration. This legislation simply closes that gap and simply says: ‘If you are required to register in your home state and you come to Alaska, you will be required to register here, regardless of when you were convicted.’”

The Executive Director of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), Keeley Olson, explained more about how the current system works.

“The loophole that exists now with the sex offender registry in Alaska is that our crimes are not on par with every other crime in every other state, and so if people move to this state and are required to register in their home state, they may not necessarily be required to register in this state because the crimes don’t match up,” Olson said.

Olson says this can make Alaska a “haven” for sex offenders, who use online forums to educate each other about various laws across the nation from state to state that govern how persons on a registry may live, work and engage with their community.

STAR maintains a 24-hour hotline and resources to support victims of sexual violence, a critical service in Alaska,

“If we reduced our rate of sex offenses in this state by half, we would still be number one in the nation,” Olson said.

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) maintains a public central registry of people required to register as sex offenders as well as child kidnappers in the state of Alaska.

According to DPS, approximately 3,300 sex offenders lived in Alaska as of Mar. 23, tracked by a database that receives daily updates. Of that total, over 1,400 offenders lived in Anchorage.

Alaska placed fourth on SafeHome’s ranking of states with the most registered sex offenders per 100,000 residents. The site analyzes data from each state’s online sex offender registry and law enforcement agencies to compile their statistics.

The National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws (NARSOL) called into question if the bills would achieve their purported goals, issuing a statement in reaction to the proposed legislative changes in Alaska.

NAROL wrote their organization questions how expanding the registry requirement will achieve its purported goal, and invites legal challenges.

“While favoring a few aspects of the bill, such as recognizing the greater seriousness in using force to gain compliance in committing prostitution and vacating criminal records for those victims to whom this applies, NARSOL finds the greater part of the bill troubling,” NAROL spokesperson Sandy Rozek wrote in an email. “One part of it will mitigate the right of the accused to face the accuser, while much of it represents the escalating spate of requirements and punishments that continue to be heaped on persons with sexual crime convictions, requirements and punishments applicable only to sexual offense registrants. As several decades of studies have found that the sexual offense registry does not reduce recidivism nor deter sexual violence or offense, there is no value in increasing its restrictions for registered Alaskans. That will only add to the tax burden of the citizenry with no public safety benefit.”

A pillar of NARSOL’s mission and vision statement is an effort to combat “dehumanizing” registries, stigma and systems reinforcing “unnecessary panic and distrust” by violating civil, constitutional and legal rights of all individuals. A paper posted on their website stated:

“Scant evidence exists that registries play any meaningful role in protecting children or the general public from sex offenders. Registries are ineffective because the rationale for them is based on a number of fallacies, including that sex offenders are at high risk of re-offending and that individuals unknown to the victim commit the majority of sex offenses.”

Ultimately, it will be up to Alaska state lawmakers to decide whether or not to pass Dunleavy’s bill, which would redefine the definitions of public safety, and civil rights for the accused, and how the two intertwine, as the bills filter through the committee process.