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The National Sex Offender Public Website and the National Sex Offender Registry
The National Sex Offender Public Website and the National Sex Offender Registry
As part of the background checks conducted on prospective direct access employees under the National Background Check Program (NBCP), States have the option to check (at no cost) the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) and the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR). The NSOPW is a public registry of persons convicted of sex offenses (however, juvenile offenders and some offenders whose crimes are less severe do not appear on the NSOPW). The NSOR is a registry for use by law enforcement personnel; it lists all the offenders that have been submitted to the NSOR by the States and Territories.
Each State may check its own State sex offender registry (SOR) as part of the background check process. The State SOR may include similar information to what is included in the NSOPW or the NSOR for that State. Checking the NSOPW and the NSOR enables the State to see whether a prospective direct access employee has any convictions in other States. This resource page describes how States can use the NSOPW and the NSOR, lists the types of information each provides, and discusses differences between them.
How do States use the NSOPW and the NSOR in the background check process?
What information do the NSOPW and the NSOR provide?
What are the key differences between the NSOPW and the NSOR?
Many States check the NSOPW in their initial registries checks. Often, if a State finds an individual on the NSOPW prior to initiating a fingerprint-based background check, the State will be able to make a fitness determination without incurring the cost of the full fingerprint-based check.
Information from the NSOR can be acquired as part of the fingerprint-based criminal history search. If a registered sex offender is listed on the NSOR and the State had included the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) number (the individual’s FBI identification number) when it originally submitted the NSOR entry for the sex offender, a notice will appear on his or her FBI-generated criminal history report when it is subsequently searched. This notification on the criminal history report lets the State’s background check agency know that the individual is a sex offender, and more information exists (i.e., the State may want to have a State law enforcement official check the NSOR for details of the individual’s record before an employment eligibility determination is made). The FBI criminal history report will show the agency with which the offender has registered, agency case number, National Crime Information Center (NCIC) number, name registered as, date registered, and registry expiration for the offender. As stated above, the information from the NSOR can identify registered sex offenders that are not on the NSOPW.
Each State’s SOR includes information on offenders such as age, race, and gender, and residence, work, and school locations. States vary on how much of their SOR information they make publicly available. The SORs are used to populate the NSOPW and the NSOR. Each State has its own registry requirements, which affect what is included in the NSOPW and the NSOR. For example, some States include pictures of offenders, while others do not, so some NSOPW and the NSOR entries have pictures, but not all. Providers or grantee State agencies will generally first access their own States’ SORs if they are available, and use the NSOPW to check for supplementary information from other States.
The NSOPW, maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART), is open to the public. It enables the public to search the latest information from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Indian tribes for the identities and locations of known sex offenders. The information available usually includes the sex offender’s name, aliases, and jurisdiction, where the offender is registered, and the zip code of where the offender currently resides. The NSOPW also contains demographic information and conviction information about each offender.
At this time, it is SMART’s policy that automated searches of the NSOPW are not allowed, and no entity may integrate the NSOPW search function into a software application. In order to use the NSOPW, the user enters an alphanumeric code to enter the website, and can then search for an individual by name and demographic information. For each new search, the user must enter a new alphanumeric code. (This alphanumeric code, which appears automatically on the screen, is used to prevent automated searches and ensure that a person is entering the system, as opposed to a web application).
The NSOR is part of the NCIC (which is maintained by the FBI) and is used to track the movements and current locations of registered sex offenders. Under federal law (the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), Public Law 109-248), offenders are required to register in each jurisdiction in which they reside, attend school, or work. For purposes of this resource page, “jurisdiction” means one of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or one of certain Indian tribes that (under SORNA) functions as a sex offender registration jurisdiction. (See Additional Resource 2 below.)
According to the National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification, the minimum required information for jurisdictions’ sex offender registries includes an offender’s name, alias(es), Internet identifiers (instant messaging and e-mail addresses), telephone numbers, including cell phone numbers, vehicle information, including license plate number, and addresses for home, work, and school, among other information. (See Additional Resource 2 below.) Although jurisdictions are required to obtain this information, they are not necessarily required to make it public, but information from jurisdictions’ sex offender registries is compiled in the NSOR.
Offenders are required to verify the information in person with “the personnel or agencies who will be responsible for [the sex offenders’] registration,” according to the guidelines. (See Additional Resource 2 below.) Tier 1 offenses are less severe (misdemeanors that carry a sentence of one year or less) and require registration for 15 years with annual verification. Tier 2 crimes (which include most sex abuse felonies and sexual exploitation) require registration for 25 years with verification every six months. Tier 3 crimes (the most severe crimes, including forcible felony crimes and sexual contact with a victim under the age of 13) require lifetime registration with quarterly verification. (See Additional Resource 2 below.) If an offender is a minor (age 14 to 17), he or she is automatically classified as a Tier 1 offender, unless the victim is under 13, in which case the offender is classified as a Tier 3 offender.
There are three key differences between the NSOPW and the NSOR: accessibility, individuals listed, and search criteria.
The public has access to the NSOPW; only law enforcement has access to the NSOR. In most States, the person doing the initial registry check is only able to access the NSOPW.
The NSOPW includes most registered sex offenders, while the NSOR includes offenders that have been submitted to the NSOR by the States and Territories. Some juveniles and some Tier 1 offenders are not listed on the NSOPW. The reason some Tier 1 offenders are not listed is that information about those Tier 1 offenders who have not been convicted of specified crimes against minors may be exempted from being listing on a public website. According to page 22 of the National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification, examples of Tier I offenders include “a sex offender whose registration offense is not punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, a sex offender whose registration offense is the receipt or possession of child pornography, and a sex offender whose registration offense is a sexual assault against an adult that involves sexual contact but not a completed or attempted sexual act.”
The NSOPW is searchable by name, jurisdiction, zip code, county (if provided by the jurisdiction), and city/town (if provided by the jurisdiction). For the NSOPW, the jurisdictions are the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the five principle U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and federally recognized Indian tribes that designate to act as their own registration jurisdiction. The search criteria are limited by what information the States provide in their registries. The NSOR is searchable (by law enforcement officials only) by name, date of birth, and other biographic descriptors (however, name and date of birth are the most commonly used for searches).
- U.S. Department of Justice, Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website. This is the NSOPW, from which users can search for specific information. It can be accessed at: https://www.nsopw.gov/.
- The National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification. These guidelines were issued by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Monitoring, Apprehension, Registration, and Tracking, July 2008, under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. This document can be accessed at: https://smart.gov/guidelines.htm.
- FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division: Sex Offender Registry Websites. The FBI CJIS Division offers information on the NSOR. This can be accessed at: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/sex-offender-registry.