Publisher's note: This article, by Garrett Daniel, was originally published in the Justice & Public Safety section(s) of Civitas's online edition.
Just days into my new internship here at Civitas earlier this summer I was handed a cardboard box, filled to the brim with literally a thousand pages of emails, meeting minutes, agendas, general statutes, handbooks, and user guides. That was my first clue that the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) was bogged down in too much regulation.
At first, my goal was to see if the SBI was breaking any laws. After reading, highlighting, underlining, and rereading these documents, I found that the SBI was not. But I did discover that, as so many other government entities seem to do, the bureau is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.
In 2006, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill
requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies. The SBI division under the Department of Public Safety was put in charge of this important registration program. (When Civitas first started this analysis, SBI was under the Department of Justice).
The problem with the program is not the idea of having sex offenders register, it's how the SBI goes about it. The SBI sends out reminder letters to these sex offenders, reminding them to register, in person, with their local sheriff's office.
To break this down a little more, there are three "tiers" of sex offenders, and for our purposes we will just focus on "Tier 1," which covers the least serious offenses. A Tier 1 convicted sex offender who is not currently incarcerated has to register on a specific date every year, then verify that registration six months later. This process is repeated each year. In short, a Tier 1 offender has to appear in-person to the sheriff's office twice a year, either to register or verify registration.
How easily could these people remember to register or verify their registration? But of course, the state reminds them. An article
that WFMY published highlighted that when you have a doctor's appointment, you get a reminder call from the office, because you are the paying client. In North Carolina, however, the state has taken on the task of reminding these sex offenders to register or verify their registration — and taxpayers foot the bill.
As of 2013, first class, certified mail costs about $6.11 per letter. From 2006 through April 2015, the state sent out a total of more than 287,000 such letters to Tier 1 offenders, costing taxpayers nearly $1.8 million on postage alone. This total does not include the costs of employee salaries or paper and printer ink needed to process the letters. To put that number in perspective, you could buy nine Lamborghinis at $200,000 a pop for what the SBI spent on postage for these reminders. These figures focus only on Tier 1 offenders; reminders to other offenders cost still more.
And that's not even the worst part. Letters are being sent to sex offenders who are incarcerated. These are the same letters, telling convicts they have three days to register in person at their county sheriff's office. Clearly, prisoners cannot, and do not need to, fulfill that requirement. In emails obtained from the Department of Justice, the SBI does not differentiate between offenders who are behind bars and offenders who are free. It seems obvious that an extra field or flag could be added to the prisoners' profiles that says, "Hey, I'm in prison and don't have to register until I get out."
This registration reminder program represents yet another instance of gross inefficiency in state government, with millions of your hard-earned tax dollars being wasted.
There is a solution. Instead of you paying for reminders, make the offenders pay for them. In South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, there is an annual registration fee for offenders when registering. The fees range from $25 to $150 and are used for a variety of things, one of those being to fund the actual program of keeping track of these criminals.