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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would add the worst juvenile sex offenders to Utah's registry for adult sex offenders.
It would single out about a dozen of the most incorrigible sexual offenders, out of 1,300 juveniles in state custody for various offenses. They would be added to the public registry as they turn 21, when they must be released from the juvenile system, despite doubts about their rehabilitation for anti-social behavior.
"These are individuals given every opportunity to respond to treatment and make changes, and have failed to do so," said Blake Chard, director of Utah Juvenile Justice Services.
Blake said several other states identify sexual offenders as they turn 21 for crimes they committed as juvenile delinquents. Legislative attorneys say the practice raises no constitutional objections.
Juveniles still could petition a court to expunge or erase their criminal offense a year after release from custody, said Ron Gordan, director of Utah Sentencing Commission.
Utah's registry, posted on a Corrections Department Web site, displays sexual offenders' names, addresses, crimes, vehicles and booking photographs. It also describes their "target" -- such as "female, minor" for offenders convicted of sexual abuse of a child.
The Web site can be searched by name of offender or by zip code, for convicts still in prison or out on parole.
Rep. Susan Lawrence, R-East Millcreek, said her constituents are up in arms over a proposed group home for juveniles with criminal backgrounds, including sex offenses. Lawrence introduced her bill on behalf of these angry neighbors, who want to see Utah identifying sex offenders regardless of age.
The registry would add any juvenile convicted of a serious sexual offense and still held in state custody within 30 days of their 21st birthday, when they must be released.
Lawrence said she wouldn't want to tag younger offenders who made mistakes but can redeem themselves. She said her bill is "for juveniles who commit a serious offense, they go through the program but aren't rehabilitated, are considered dangerous or predatory and are kept in system after they're 18."
Utah's juvenile offenders are kept in detention centers or sent to groups homes or residential treatment centers run by private providers, Chard said.
Chard said Utah is logging an increase in juvenile sex offenders, "and they're younger." He couldn't immediately say how many of the state's 1,300 juvenile delinquents are classified as sex offenders, but said the vast majority got in trouble for thefts, drug possession, property crimes and burglaries.
Among all of Utah's juvenile sex offenders, Chard's agency ranked 14 last year as the most dangerous, up from 10 in 2002. These juveniles are kept locked up until they turn 21.
The number of serious juvenile sex offenders fluctuates from year to year: there were 15 in 2001, 11 in 2000, 10 in 1999 and zero in 1998.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)