Anthony Sowell and Phillip Garrido Cases Raise Questions About Sex Offender Monitoring

Anthony Sowell case is latest to highlight issues with sex offender registries.

ByABC News
November 2, 2009, 1:19 PM

Nov. 2, 2009 — -- Registered sex offender Anthony Sowell was able to hide six decomposed bodies in his Cleveland home from officials who routinely checked in on him, calling into question the effectiveness of the probation and parole system.

There are too few officers checking on a growing registry of sex offenders that often tops 100 for each officer to keep an eye on, at times giving the same level of scrutiny to offenders who had one-time flings with a minor to dangerous predators.

"The system is broken in the sense that we have a lot of people on sex registries and while it gives us a list of people who might be involved in crimes, there are so many people on those lists that they're overly inclusive," said Jonathan Simon, the associate dean for Jurisprudence and Social Policy at UC Berkeley's School of Law. "[These lists] don't give authorities the chance to select those who are the higher risks," said Simon.

Sowell, 50, was last visited by officials on Sept. 22, more than a month before it was discovered that there were six women dead in the home, five of whom are believed to have been strangled.

Investigators said some of the bodies had been in Sowell's home for months, possibly years.

Sheriffs deputies say they were not allowed to go into Sowell's home on their routine house checks because Sowell, who spent 15 years in prison for choking and raping a 21-year-old woman in 1989, was not on probation or parole.

Sowell's house was only entered by authorities after a woman in the neighborhood reported having been raped inside the home, giving police reasons for a search warrant.

In September, California Inspector General David Shaw launched an investigation into how several different state parole officers failed to discover that accused kidnapper Phillip Garrido was able to keep Jaycee Dugard hidden for 18 years. Dugard was discovered in Garrido's Antioch, Calif., yard in August.

Shaw told at the time that Garrido, 58, had five or six different state parole officers assigned to check up on him over the nearly two decades he held Dugard in his back yard.

The officers checking on Garrido at any one time had a case load that included at least 39 other offenders, according to public records.

Steve Austin, a correctional program specialist at the National Institute of Corrections, told that these two cases highlight the problems that exist in the parole and probation system.

"A lot of times the resources are so limited that the parole agencies aren't doing the kind of checks that the public might think they are," said Austin. "These parole officers have such large caseloads they aren't able to do intricate checks of these offenders' homes."