Sex offenders on campus: what do students need to know?

Graphic By Anika Sultana | Mercury Staff

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The UTD student body currently includes seven registered sex offenders. The Mercury decided to take a deep dive into their presence at UTD, what this means for student safety, campus affairs and criminal background’s impact on education as a whole.

Texas is the state with the highest number of registered sex offenders at a total of 100,989, an average rate of about 336 offenders per 100,000, less than neighboring Arkansas but greater than most Southern states. The Texas Sex Offender Registration Program handles what is close to 1/8 of all registered sex offenders in the US as a whole. To protect students and help those attempting to reintegrate in society, UTDPD coordinates with surrounding city and county governments to ensure registered sex offenders on campus adhere to their court mandated restrictions and maintain a constant line of communication. According to Adam Perry, lieutenant of the UTDPD, there have been no reoffenses from those on UTD’s registry for as long as it has been active.

“I have been here a little over 7 and a half years, and I have never had to file on anyone before,” Sergeant Rod Bishop of the UTDPD said. “If we did file that would be the first in the past 7 years.”

The Texas penal code divides sex offenders into 3 broad categories; risk levels are determined by the Texas judicial system based on an individual’s case, offense, mental health and more. According to the Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp, low risk offenders are unlikely to engage in another criminal sexual act; qualifying charges include indecent exposure — nudity in public — and consensual sex with a prostitute. Moderate risk offenders have committed multiple criminal sexual acts — including sexual assault or sex with a minor — and may offend again. High risk offenders are extremely likely to offend again, qualifying charges including violent sexual assault or human trafficking. The offenders registered at UTD are considered either low or moderate risk. UTDPD updates those on the registry with what areas they must avoid, currently only the Callier Center, which has a playground for children. UTDPD also keeps track of updates and changes, such as a new phone, new contact information, new car or a name change.

“If they have a right to be here on campus and they are registered, then we don’t want to exclude them from being here,” Perry said. “But we also want to educate them on where they aren’t supposed to be, because if they violate their restrictions, they risk going back to prison. And so, ours is more to help them navigate while they are here on campus, not to exclude them, because it is their right to be here.”

A study funded by the New York Bar association found that 72% of colleges factor criminal background checks into their application process. UTD belongs to the minority that does not. Under UTD policy, applicants are not required to submit background checks unless specifically requested by the school president. Ryan Slack, senior director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said that certain programs and roles will run background checks, but UTD as a whole focuses on academic qualifications, including past achievement, employment and volunteering. Perry said that areas where children predominantly congregate receive greater protection under state law and tend to require background checks. If admitted, registered sex offenders must notify UTDPD prior to the start of the semester as per state law. If an enrolled student becomes a registered sex offender during their time at UTD, they must notify campus within 7 days of their registration.

“We want to make sure that we are reviewing students on their individual academic merit and their ability to succeed here at the university,” Slack said.

Thomas Gray, political science professor and civil liberties expert, said that in the U.S. the limits of an individual’s civil liberties typically stop at the point where they affect public order or national security. More importantly, using “sex offense” as one broad term for different crimes oversimplifies the issue. Gray said that the culture surrounding offenders reduces the nuances of the legal system — including complicated court cases and possibly unrepresentative plea deals – into black and white. Gray also pointed out that the justice system does not have a central public registry for murderers or drunk drivers, despite the fact they also pose threats to public safety. There is a large difference between the lowest and highest risk levels of sex offenders, even though they all qualify for the registry and carry a similar stigma.

“The criminal register is a fairly controversial approach because it stigmatizes the person — some would say very fairly — because it provides information, accurate information,” Gray said. “But others would say that this is a huge barrier to them reintegrating with society. This is a huge barrier for them moving on with their lives and doing better with their lives, that this is holding them back. That personal growth that they need to do is limited.”


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  • First off: Registration is not, “court mandated”. The registry and all registry laws are applied by legislative fiat and ex-post facto. There are 1000’s on a registry who were told of registration through the mail.

    I realize in America you would think that something so profound as a sex offender listing requires some sort of court input. But no. There are zero due process rights to a registry.

    What does the registry accomplish?

    Public safety?

    No. There is zero research on the registry that shows the outcome of a registry is public safety.

    What the registry does is takes safety and/or security from the registrant.

    This is accomplished through society using the registry to enforce social isolation.

    In the article it is stated that the registrant has a RIGHT to be there (on campus). The article says that because the writer knows the registrant’s presence is controversial and flammable. It must be stated that his presence must be tolerated, but it is also taken for granted he will be shunned on campus.

    Not only will the person be shunned on campus but shunned in life. Especially in regards to housing, employment, and socializing within the community.

    As the level system is described in the article is false.

    Level 3 does NOT mean LIKELY (more than 50%) they will engage in criminal sexual conduct. In TRUTH, backed up by all statistics, it is UNLIKELY (much less than 50% and around 10 to 15%) that even a level 3 will reoffend.

    Let’s assume it is true that level 3’s are LIKELY to reoffend.

    You are telling me the State is only waiting for that person to reoffend and will only tell you that person will reoffend?

    No. because they have CIVIL Comitment for those people that are LIKELY to reoffend?

    They are telling you this term, LIKELY, to spread fear and to enforce isolation in order to PUNISH (continually punish). This has nothing to do with public safety.

    Isn’t that great? You all have a system of government that allows a legislature to define social outcasts outside of any court, challenge or appeals and even long after a sentence has been served. They label according to perceptions and not with any scientific clarity.

    You all won’t write into your laws the registry is a punishment which allows unlimited additions to the registry. It doesn’t even have to be sexually motivated (parental kidnapping is a registable offense in Texas) .

    I REFUSE the registry for the following reasons: ex-post facto, no due process, strips safety and security and is simply an illegal punishment of social isolation.

    You can’t force people to choose between illegal propositions… to take way safety and security or go to jail.

  • Some stats about the registry:

    The age that is most likely to be arrested for a sex offense? 14.

    1/3 of the registry was placed there as a MINOR.

    Minors have the lowest rate of reoffense (less than 5%)

    Women have to register as a sex offender because they are likely to reoffend?

    Reoffense of women is less than 1%.

    You all think telling someone they are inherently dangerous (especially children) they will always be dangerous and must be labeled as such for life, is PROTECTIVE?

    Or insanely cruel?

    The registry doesn’t distinguish between sexual experimentation and predatory behavior. Let me put it this way. All you people and your sexual experimentation in college won’t make you gay. Kids trying to figure out sexuality are not predators. The registry doesn’t distinguish between them.

    Your registry not only doesn’t protect but is actually dangerous to public safety.

    Let me put it this way: It is easily agreed upon knowing nothing else about me, that me having a job, sociability and a stable house is so much safer to the community than not having those things.

    I was losing those things when on a registry. A guy who is alienated, alone and hopeless is not safe.

    Do you all understand that basic concept of psychology?

    We all understand that like there are kleptomaniacs who can’t stop stealing, and there are those who can’t stop sexually offending. But just like stealing, they are a small percentage and can be distinguished through court hearings and restrictions based upon factual findings.

    The failure of the registry is because of the goal of the registry. It is to influence the behavior of the community against the registrant REGARDLESS of actual dangerousness. Not to influence the registrants behavior to become integrated (and safe).

    My life means something to me…and that is, more than anything else, what is safe for everyone else.

    The registry is dangerous to public safety and obviously so.

    It is why I will not register again.

  • And how did you come to that conclusion (a chomo?)Ohhh.. that is right… you can use your imagination without limitation bringing all your biases and prejudices to bear.. and not worry a whit about what is actually true or not. You are to whip up emotions against a registrant and arbitrarily dismiss him solely because of a label that is assumed…and do it with the fewest words possible.

    You getting registry information is unequivocally dangerous to public safety.

    You can’t properly interpret registry information. But you can have knee jerk reactions designed to incite violence and disgust.

    This is a public pronouncement.. While Chris H. is given access to a registry (who has no need to have access) I REFUSE to follow registry laws.

    Your registry is not only dangerous.. but is clearly applied illegally and given to the public who are not educated or even aware of what keeps a community safe.

    Thank you Chris…for your help illustrating the problems and issues that are inherent in this registry

    • Your passion about the problems with the registry really shines through – we’d love to hear more about this. If you’re interested in writing an op-ed for The Mercury, or discussing this topic more for a future publication, please reach out to opinion@utdmercury.com.

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