Missouri exports sex offenders to surrounding states

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri’s tough treatment of sex offenders living outside of prison is sending hundreds of the offenders to neighboring states, where laws are not as stringent.

Missouri requires sex offenders to register for a lifetime, with no exceptions. Other states require registrations for a specific number of years, with a lifetime registration only for high risk sex offenders. Kansas is one of at least 20 states with no sex offender residency restrictions

The Columbia Missourian analyzed Missouri State Highway Patrol records of more than 2,500 offenders who moved out of the state in the past two years. Kansas, Illinois and Arkansas are the top destinations for sex offenders.

Almost three dozen sex offenders moved to Mexico, which has no national sex offender registry.

“Sex offenders do shop around,” said Paula Stitz, who runs the State Sex Offender Registry for the Arkansas Crime Information Center. “It’s been my experience and the experience of other state-level managers. I had actual telephone calls and them telling me that they are shopping around.”

Last year, as part of an overhaul of Missouri’s criminal statutes, Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, sponsored a bill that included a minimum registration requirement of 15 years, followed by 25 years, with lifetime registration only for high-risk offenders — the same registration tiers as Kansas. The bill died but a similar bill passed the House this session and is headed to the Senate.

Kansas is one of at least 20 states with no sex offender residency restrictions unless on probation or parole. Kansas is now home to 512 former Missouri registrants who moved there in the past two years.

John Gauntt, of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, isn’t sure Kansas attracts sex offenders because of its looser requirements. State agencies do not question offenders when they move and register in another state. Gauntt said it’s up to law enforcement to know where the offenders live.

“Just because we don’t have a residency requirement, the agencies are not giving the offenders a free ride,” Gauntt said. “I think the system here in Kansas has been running pretty well.”

The Illinois State Police Sex Offender Registration Unit reviews sex offender profiles every day. In Illinois, a registration sentence is either 10 years or a lifetime.

According to the unit supervisor Tracie Newton, last year Illinois removed about 1,000 people from the registry. More than 600 completed their 10-year registration duty, some died, and 208 offenders had their convictions modified through the courts.

Out-of-state registrants’ convictions are substituted for an Illinois equivalent. Before 2012, that would determine if an offender would have to register only for 10 years instead of a lifetime in Missouri. But in 2012, a new law meant incoming sex offenders can no longer avoid lifetime registration by crossing the state border. Kansas closed that loophole 10 years ago.

“It makes people re-evaluate their plans a little bit more” Newton said.

Arkansas doesn’t yet have that provision, and 205 Missouri sex offenders headed there in the past two years. The state has about 16,000 registered sex offenders, with many also coming from Texas and Oklahoma.