At first glance, having a sex offender registry in Florida may seem like a good idea. In fact, since 1994, the federal government has required every state to have a registry, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
States have considerable discretion in how they design these and what information is included, but the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act passed by Congress in 2006 dictates which offenses and what offender information must be public.
Motivations for a large registry
Federal funds for state criminal justice systems may be withheld when states are not in compliance with the minimum federal standards.
According to The Appeal, that funding may be motivating some sex offender registry requirements in Florida that many feel are extreme and have no safety benefit. Claiming the largest registry in the United States on a grant application may have helped the Florida Department of Law Enforcement receive a grant award of nearly $400,000 for registry system upgrades in fiscal year 2018.
Methods for inflating the numbers
Roughly 73,000 people are listed in the registry. But are there really that many convicted sex offenders in Florida? According to a report from the Florida legislative auditor’s office, 60% of the people on the list are currently in prison or live out of state. Nonresidents are entered in Florida’s registry when they visit the state for three days or more, and then they remain in the system for at least 25 years.
Laws and penalties vary from one state to the next. Individuals may commit an offense in their home state that does not require registry. They may not even receive a conviction. However, because of Florida’s regulations that go above and beyond the federal standards, a visit to the Sunshine State may result in a nearly permanent sex offender label that shows up on background checks.