Metro

Mass. has lost track of nearly 1,800 sex offenders, audit says

Massachuetts Auditor Suzanne Bump.
John Blanding/Globe staff
Massachuetts Auditor Suzanne Bump.

Nearly 1,800 Massachusetts sex offenders did not have a current address on file with the state’s registry, and close to 1,000 of those convicted criminals had not been classified by their likelihood to reoffend, according to an audit released Tuesday by state Auditor Suzanne M. Bump.

The state Sex Offender Registry Board neglected to verify addresses with agencies in the state’s executive branch — such as the departments of Revenue and Transitional Assistance — despite having agreements with those agencies to use their data to confirm addresses, and being required by law to do so, the audit found, according to a statement from Bump’s office.

The audit covered the period from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016.

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“When government commits to the taxpayers that it will provide a certain level of safety — and transparency — it has an obligation to do everything within its authority to meet that obligation,” Bump said in the statement. “As technology and data collection continue to change and improve, our state agencies have an opportunity to utilize that change to break down the silos that have historically existed in government.”

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Bump said that by neglecting the opportunity to share data with other state agencies, the registry board “is not fulfilling its mission.”

But a spokesman for the board on Wednesday defended the panel’s progress, citing court rulings related to the state’s sex offender law.

“While we respectfully feel that this audit left out some critical facts about these courts decisions, we agree that this is an important public safety issue and will continue to work on it with the Legislature,” spokesman Felix Browne said in a statement to the Globe.

The board has added four hearing examiners “to deal with the added workload,” Browne said. It has also prioritized information sharing, and collaborates with law enforcement “to keep our communities safe for the peace of mind” of state residents, he added.

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Sex offenders who are required to register with the board must update their registration data annually or be subject to fines, arrest, and possible imprisonment.

Examining data from the Department of Transitional Assistance that the registry board had neglected to check, Bump’s staff found that agency alone had information on 39 sex offenders who had violated registration requirements but had collected public benefits.

The board’s failure to classify 936 sex offenders deprived the public of access to those offenders’ names, offenses, and photographs, as well as information on whether a criminal likely to commit another sex crime lived in their communities, Bump’s office said.

Among those 936 unclassified offenders were 237 convicted of indecent assault and battery on a person age 14 or older, 177 convicted of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, 143 convicted of rape, and 129 convicted of rape of a child with force.

Before the audit was released, the board told Bump’s office that it already had classified some of the unclassified offenders after the audit period, and that it planned to use existing data-sharing agreements and to explore opportunities to create new agreements to ensure that the registry is comprehensive.

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At the time of the audit, there were 13,127 convicted sex offenders in Massachusetts. Another 5,260 had moved out of state, 2,874 were incarcerated, and 547 had been deported.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.