Case backlog in Georgia sex offender oversight agency undermines safety

Due to backlogs, more than 6,000 sexual offenders are living in communities across the state without ever getting reviewed and rated by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board. The board was created 15 years ago by the General Assembly to help protect the public from the most dangerous sex offenders once they leave prison or get placed on probation. (GBI)

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Due to backlogs, more than 6,000 sexual offenders are living in communities across the state without ever getting reviewed and rated by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board. The board was created 15 years ago by the General Assembly to help protect the public from the most dangerous sex offenders once they leave prison or get placed on probation. (GBI)

A decade and a half ago, the state of Georgia enhanced its system for alerting the community and law enforcement about potentially dangerous sex offenders.

Lawmakers created the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board to rate the risk each of the state’s convicted sex offenders could pose after they were released from prison or sentenced to probation. Those assessments are listed on the state sex offender registry, alerting the public and the criminal justice system to those who may pose the greatest risk.

But the General Assembly never funded the board in a way that allowed it to fully carry out its mission, and information gaps in Georgia’s sprawling criminal justice system have created a huge backlog of cases.

More than 6,000 sexual offenders are living in communities across the state without ever getting reviewed and rated.

That leaves communities flying blind on a critical assessment of the potential risk. And it means Department of Community Supervision officers responsible for monitoring those on probation or parole are spread thin.

“There are more than 30,000 registered sex offenders in GA — they all cannot be supervised/overseen the same,” said Tracy Alvord, executive director for the review board office. “Resources need to be spent on the most dangerous.”

Mariam Abdulrab’s family learned of the cracks in the system last year after the 27-year-old bartender was abducted outside her southeast Atlanta home and fatally shot.

The man charged with attempted rape and murder in her death is one of more than 400 sex offenders convicted in Fulton who are on the backlog after getting released from prison or placed on probation.

The Abdulrab family started attending Sex Offender Registration Review Board meetings, pressing for answers about why a sex offender who had harmed children in the past hadn’t had his case reviewed or received a rating after being released from prison the year before. They also probed the Department of Community Supervision’s oversight.

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Ali Abdulrab and Asya Morgan talk in front of the mural of the murder victim Abdulrab's sister, Mariam, on Wylie Street near the Krog Street tunnel. Ali Abdulrab and Asya Morgan have become activists seeking to strengthen the way the state oversees sex offenders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Ali Abdulrab and Asya Morgan talk in front of the mural of the murder victim Abdulrab's sister, Mariam, on Wylie Street near the Krog Street tunnel. Ali Abdulrab and Asya Morgan have become activists seeking to strengthen the way the state oversees sex offenders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Ali Abdulrab and Asya Morgan talk in front of the mural of the murder victim Abdulrab's sister, Mariam, on Wylie Street near the Krog Street tunnel. Ali Abdulrab and Asya Morgan have become activists seeking to strengthen the way the state oversees sex offenders. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“Everyone is essentially pointing the finger at each other, and people are falling through the cracks,” said Asya Morgan, an attorney who is friends with the Abdulrab family. “The most vulnerable people in society are suffering.”

The backlog has been a problem for more than a decade, due in part to the caseload for the board’s analysts. The board also has faced budget cuts in recent years, like other state agencies.

Alvord said assessing each sex offender is a time-consuming process that requires cooperation from local courts, district attorney offices, probation officers and sometimes other states if an offender’s crimes were committed outside Georgia.

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Some are better than others about providing information to assist the board, she said.

“Counties like Fulton, wherein the previous DA would not assist in our obtaining documents, left us with the inability to conduct those classifications and in turn left those agencies unable to determine extent of supervision,” she said. “This is also true for cases we can’t classify merely because we are understaffed.”

A bill that passed the state House last year and appears headed to the Senate this session could help. It calls for tougher sentencing of sexual offenders, increases the number of review board investigators and mandates more information sharing with the board.

“There are more than 30,000 registered sex offenders in GA — they all cannot be supervised/overseen the same. Resources need to be spent on the most dangerous."

- Tracy Alvord, executive director for the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board

Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, has served on the board for the past several years. She helped secure a grant in the past to try to help with the backlog. But she said the original law that created the board 15 years ago needs updated.

Currently, the board’s three-tiered rating system (Level 1, Level 2 and Dangerous Predators), isn’t enough to adequately communicate risk. She’s planning to introduce separate legislation that would expand the rating system to five levels, which would provide a more precise risk assessment for each offender.

“It’s going to make Georgia safer,” she said. “It’s going to allow the board more freedom in leveling people where they should be leveled.”