Last week we were contacted by a member in Illiniois, Carol, with a heart-breaking story. Carol is the mother of two children, a son and a daughter. Carol’s son, Adam, suffers from Intellectual and Developmental Disability (IDD – what was formerly referred to as “mentally retarded”). As she described it, “even though [her] son is in a man’s body, his mind is that of a ten-year old.” He needs to be reminded to perform routine functions, such as eating, showering and putting on clean clothes. He will forever be dependent on his parents.
Seven years ago, when he was in his mid-20’s, he exposed himself to a young neighbor. He is required to register as a sex offender. As she describes it, “since my son understands none of the requirements of registration, it is my husband and I who live the registry. We have to make sure to take him to register because he does not have a clue when he’s supposed to go.”
Carol’s story was featured in the Marshall Project, but her story continued…
Recently tragedy struck their family when Carol’s grandson (daughter’s son) died. They now have to shuttle between Florida (where the daughter lives) and Illinois (where the son lives) in order to provide support to both their children.
They would love to move their son to Florida, but because he cannot live independently or go out on his own, they would be subject to the same requirements and restrictions as him. Compliance would be on them and any misstep here would be their fault and subject their son to a mandatory minimum sentence with a GPS monitor. For their son, who has sensory issues, an ankle monitor would be torture. Also, since Florida registers people for life (in IL he will be off after 10 years), their son would be left helpless after they are gone. There will be no one to look after his compliance with the registry rules and nowhere that will take a sex offender.
Over the years we’ve heard from MANY parents of persons required to register who have mental health issues such as IDD, autism or bipolar disorder. We also hear from many who have Alzheimer’s or dementia. With an aging registrant population, inevitably many of us will one day find ourselves in this category. It’s very scary!
Carol’s story is not unique. Carol was just courageous enough to share her story publicly and motivated enough to start an organization, Legal Reform for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (LRIDD.org), to help families who are going through the same thing as her and to advocate for changes to laws.
Florida makes no provisions for registrants with mental health issues or those who are simply aging (which includes all registrants). While most states don’t either, most don’t also have lifetime registries so they don’t need to be concerned about aging registrants who have not committed a crime in decades. Recently, the Miami Herald wrote a story highlighting this issue, so we’re certainly not the first to point out the problem.
I was touched by Carol’s story and motivated by her efforts. We want to help her and others in the same situation!
Please write to your Senator and/or Representative to let them know about Carol’s situation and tell them you want a Bill that will create a safety valve for persons required to register who have mental disabilities which render them incapable of independently complying with the registration laws, or who are elderly or physically disabled such that they no longer present a risk to public safety. While you are at it; suggest a tiered registry according to the Federal SORNA tiers, so that there will be a solution for aging people who have completed probation, completed treatment and remained offense free for an appropriate number of years.