SPECIAL REPORT: Friends You Can't Trust - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Cost-saving measure prevents prosecution of sex offenders


MADISON (WKOW) -- A cost-saving measure by the Department of Corrections is preventing the prosecution of some convicted sex offenders, according to interviews and court documents reviewed by 27 News.

One such sex offender was trolling Facebook for children, soliciting pictures of teens, and occasionally going to see them in person, according to Justice Department special agents in sworn court records.

The problem has to do with the implementation of a relatively new law designed to monitor sex offenders online.

Passed during the 2009-10 session, Wisconsin Act 131 requires registered sex offenders to give the state all Internet identifiers: everything from email addresses to screen names and social network IDs. The law took effect on March 4, 2010.

But more than 13 months later, 27 News has learned that law still hasn't been fully implemented.

The agency that runs the sex offender registry, the Department of Corrections, hasn't notified all convicted sex offenders of the new requirements under the law.

Although the department is not required by statute to notify offenders of any changes to the registry law, district attorneys and special counsels had advised the department that notification would help prosecutors secure convictions, according to Lance Wiersma, Director of Sex Offender Programs.

Wiersma says the department began notifying offenders in December 2010, more than nine months after the law went into effect. He says his staff needed the time to gather input and develop the most efficient procedures for notifying offenders, and gathering their information.

But the department never announced to district attorneys or law enforcement when it would begin sending out notifications.

One month before, in November 2010, special agents from the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force executed search warrants against two convicted sex offenders in Waukesha County who had been observed using Facebook. The men hadn't given the state their online usernames -- a potential felony under the new registry law -- according to court documents.

The cases were referred to Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel. Schimel told 27 News he's confident the men violated the registry law, but he never filed charges. He said a jury would be unlikely to convict the men because they weren't properly notified at the time the warrants were executed.

As of late last week, the department had notified roughly three-fourths of the state's 21,000 offenders, with more than 5,000 to go.

"Listen, this isn't about what's convenient for the Department of Corrections," said Representative Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson), who was the law's primary sponsor.

"This is a law that should have been enacted last year."

Jorgensen says the department never communicated to the legislature that it would need months to begin implementation.

The department's implementation process has also been haphazard. According to Wiersma, some offenders were notified multiple times. Many offenders who were prohibited from using a computer as a condition of their parole were among the first to receive notice.

Offenders are currently receiving the notice in other mailings, like annual registration update forms that offenders receive on their birthdays, and change of address confirmations.

Asked why the department simply didn't notify all of the state's registered sex offenders in writing once the law was in effect, Wiersma said a mass-mailing would cost $10,000. He also expressed concern that a large number of responses at the same time would overwhelm his staff.

Wiersma expects to have all offenders notified by July 1. That's 16 months after the law went into effect.

After learning of the story from 27 News, Representative Jorgensen sent a letter to Governor Scott Walker, asking him to step in and speed up the implementation process.


Find out when the next Special Report will air on 27 News by signing up for programming text alerts at www.wkow.com/alerts.

Powered by Frankly