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Errors delay expansion of Vt. sex offender registry - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Errors delay expansion of Vt. sex offender registry

Montpelier, Vermont - June 30, 2010

The state of Vermont was set to expand the sex offender registry dramatically Thursday. Home addresses of convicted sex criminals were going to be made available online. But now those plans are on hold because the existing registry had so many serious problems.

"The condition of this registry in February was probably an F," said Tom Salmon, R-Vt. State Auditor.

Salmon says Vermont's sex offender registry flunked his department's exam.

"There were some sizeable errors, and that was a concern to everybody: law enforcement, the Legislature, public safety, our office," he said.

Some offenders who belonged online were left out, including at least one convicted of sexual assault on a child. The registry also included some offenders who were not supposed to be on it. But the offenders were still all under corrections supervision.

"I'm encouraged by the commitment of public safety to correct the errors immediately," Salmon said.

The rape and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett prompted Vermont lawmakers to call for an expansion of the registry, by identifying specific home addresses of sex offenders. That upgrade is now on hold because of the audit's findings. They say mistakes happened because of software glitches, human error stemming from complex and changing laws, and bad communication between the state departments that contribute to the registry.

"If this tool is used correctly, it's a pretty solid public safety tool, but if it's not, it's useless," Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said. "So I sent out an email this morning to my staff emphasizing the importance of this tool, telling them it was to be a priority."

"I anticipated there would be errors," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay said. "Are we disappointed? Sure, we're disappointed. We would like to have done better. But this was the exact reason we did this audit: to make sure we get it right and we will get it right."

The Public Safety Department says it has fixed the mistakes, and plans another, even more in-depth screening of the sex offender information. Auditor Tom Salmon says that will turn around the failing grade.

"As a project, I think it was an A," he said.

Senate Judiciary chair Dick Sears says he was surprised at how many mistakes the audit found. He had been pushing for the registry expansion but says it would be wrong to do it before the system is ready and this audit should help get it on-track.

There are more than 2,000 people on the sex offender registry. And the public safety commissioner is hopeful the double-checking can get done in two months or so, with the sex offenders' addresses going online by fall. The computer software company that manages the tools is improving its system, and all the state departments say they have a better sense of how to better cooperate from here on out.

Click here to read the auditor's full findings.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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