Steven Johnston is back in Big Muddy Correctional Center serving a three year, five month prison sentence for failing to register as a sex offender.
Johnston’s sentence for failing to register is five months longer than his original prison sentence on the 2009 charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child. And it’s the second time he’s been in prison for failing to register. In 2013, Johnston pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison on a registration violation.
Johnston, now 60, is one of 75 people prosecuted last year for failing to comply with sex and violent offender registrations, according to St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. That number has tripled over the last eight years.
“Over the years, we’ve worked with the State Police, Sheriff’s Department and local police department and local police on special details and during the regular course of investigations and seen some good progress on these cases,” Kelly said. “The main focus has been compliance, compliance, compliance. Officers are using the registry effectively.”
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St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecuted 24 violations of sex and violent offender registries in 2010, 28 in 2011; 23 in 2012; 50 in 2013; 50 in 2014; 61 in 2015; 46 in 2016; 57 in 2017 and 75 so far this year.
Alan Mills, a Chicago civil and prisoner rights attorney, said registration laws fail to improve public safety and largely keep people in a spiral of homelessness and recidivism and imprisonment.
“The vast number of people in prison under these registration violations have no business being there,” Mills said.
Police and prosecutors use the registries to ensure compliance not necessarily to send offenders back to prison, Kelly said. The registry can also be used to get offenders access to housing and programs, Kelly said.
“We do use discretion. Police do. Prosecutors do. It’s not always about sending someone to prison,” Kelly said. “It’s about compliance, compliance, compliance.”
The problems with registration laws
Mills pointed to research that shows perpetrators in child molestation cases aren’t strangers in trench coats hanging out at playgrounds, but trusted caregivers and relatives.
Registration laws make finding housing difficult and drive people underground, Mills said. Homelessness can cause stress, which Mills said can cause be to offend by committing theft or other crimes.
And it’s expensive for taxpayers, Mills said.
“It would be cheaper for the state of Illinois to rent apartments for these offenders on parole than to spend the rest of it in Menard Correctional Center. And I am talking some pretty nice apartments,” Mills said.
New assessment tools allow mental health professionals to determine the most likely offenders to reoffend, Kelly said. And the registries allow law enforcement to keep tabs on violent and sex offenders.
Compliance checks to make sure sex and violent offenders are where they are should be also ensures the accuracy of the list, Kelly said.
“The data is not perfect because occasionally you will find offenders on the list that are deceased and not at an address because they are already back in prison in Illinois or another state or federal prison, so there is some data sharing that the state level that might be enhanced, but it’s a very important, critical resource for law enforcement,” Kelly said.
Earlier this year, Mascoutah police searched for Johnston. He had failed file his annual registration. He was arrested in March. He pleaded guilty in August. Johnson is scheduled for release on Dec. 13, 2019.