By Steven Yoder | March 1, 2019
It was the kind of headline guaranteed to generate clicks even over the winter holidays and amid a federal government shutdown: “Number of Sex Offenders Living in Florida Is Growing,” warned the Associated Press. In December, the Florida legislative auditor’s office released a report noting that the number of people on the state’s sex offender registry had expanded 53 percent since 2005, to about 73,000.
But the report also contains this detail: 60 percent of those on the list live out of state, are in prison, or have been deported—up from the 43 percent in those categories in the auditors’ first report in 2006.
That’s because Florida’s registry increasingly scoops up anyone who has ever lived there or visited. Under state law, anyone with a sex crime in their past who comes to Florida for three days or more—say, a long weekend at Disney World or a business conference—has to visit a sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted and photographed and turn over myriad other details. The state then publishes those and keeps these new registrants on its public list for a minimum of 25 years.
Not only does that artificially inflate Florida’s list, critics say—it makes it impossible for those who have served a sentence and moved away to start over, even when their new home jurisdictions don’t require them to be publicly listed.