The sex offender registration laws of the mid-1990s seemed like a good idea with a useful purpose.
They were spawned by the Megan Kanka case in New Jersey. The 7-year-old's parents were not aware that the man who lived across the street was a twice-convicted sex offender until he was charged with the brutal rape and murder of their daughter.
A federal law passed after the incident required the addresses of convicted sex offenders to be verified at least once a year.
The idea was that people in the neighborhood would have access to such lists and know who to avoid and who shouldn't be around their children.
However, Parents for Megan's Law, a child advocacy group, have discovered that most states are losing track of their sex offenders.
It's unknown how many convicted sexual offenders there are in Missouri who may pose a threat to children whose parents are unaware of their neighbors' pasts. It is one of 19 states, including Texas and New York, where officials are simply unable to say how many sex offenders are failing to register or failing to update their registration.
As of 1997, the names and address of registered, convicted sex offenders became public record in Missouri. Since 1995, sex offenders convicted after 1979 have been required to register with local law enforcement agencies in Missouri. But until 1997, only police agencies and prosecutors could see those records.
The Parents for Megan's Law survey showed California lost track of 33,000 such offenders. Up-to-date addresses are missing from the databases of 32 states -- up to 77,000 ex-cons. Oklahoma and Tennessee had the highest failure rates, up to 50 percent of their sex offenders failing to register or keep up-to-date addresses.
Many states are saying they have little staff to do the work. Certainly, it is a mammoth task to keep up with people who have committed sex crimes against others. Many aren't in one place for very long.
However, it is pointless to have the law without keeping an accurate list. Concerned Missouri parents should put pressure on the state government and law enforcement agencies to maintain proper lists for our area.