SAN ANTONIO – For certain Texas sex offenders, a lifetime on the sex offender registry may not always be a lifetime. A little known law that has been around for more than a decade allows certain offenders to have their information removed from the list.
While some believe the state statute negatively impacts public safety, others, including licensed sex offender treatment provider, Bruce Cameron, believe the law improves public safety.
“I have guys that have told me, ‘Hey, doing prison was easy. Being on the registry – that’s a life sentence,” Cameron said.
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Cameron is one of a handful of “deregistration specialists,” which are individuals licensed to evaluate sex offenders who want to be removed from the sex offender registry. Cameron, a retiree from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, assisted in establishing the BOP’s first first Sex Offender Treatment Unit, and has worked extensively with incarcerated populations. Upon his retirement from the BOP in 2013, he established a private practice with offices in Dallas and Southlake, working with adolescent and adult sex offenders by providing treatment services.
“Nobody really grows up and says when they’re six years old, they want to be a sex offender treatment provider,” he said, acknowledging his niche area of expertise. However, his religious and moral convictions, he said, drew him to it.
“The Bible talks about working with the least of these,” he explained, noting that then, lepers were considered “the lease of these.” Cameron worked in the last leprosy colony in the Northern Hemisphere which was in Louisiana.
He said, “it seems like in today’s world, the sex offender is the modern day leper.”
“There’s a registry – these people have to be kept track of,” he explained. “Back in the day, sex offenders were rounded up on Halloween and had to report to a gymnasium somewhere.
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“…Here you have this group of people and they can’t get jobs and they can’t find a place to live. It’s very difficult, right? They’re on a registry. They have to report. They’re being monitored by law enforcement constantly.”
As Texas leads the country with the number of registered sex offenders, Cameron said the law aids in allocating law enforcement resources to those who truly need to be monitored.
In Texas, Health and Human Services publishes a step-by-step guide on how to apply for early deregistration.
Sex offenders with a single reportable conviction or adjudication in Texas can apply to the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment for early deregistration so long as the state’s minimum registration period exceeds the federal registration requirements and the offender was convicted of a single offense.
The Texas Department of Public Safety publishes a list of the charges that qualify.
“We’ve had people in Austin look at this. 25% of the people on that registry are actually theoretically eligible for deregistration,” Cameron said.
After the Council on Sex Offender Treatment Reviews the application and verifies whether the sex offender qualifies, the offender will receive a letter from the Council advising them they qualify for a deregistration evaluation.
This is where Cameron comes in.
“My position is to deliver the test, write up the report, and send it for somebody else to make a decision. I’m not a decision maker,” he said.
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If the evaluator feels the offender poses a low risk of reoffending, the Council will approve the person to petition the court to ask to be removed from the registry. If the judge agrees, the person will be taken off the registry.
“We’re not arguing the merits of the case,” Cameron said. “The guy’s guilty. This is merely an administrative hearing to take him off the registry.”
Cameron said this process removes those who don’t belong on the list, leaving those who do require heightened law enforcement observation.
Bexar County’s top law enforcer disagreed.
“I would never be for a scenario where someone would be able to deregister and get themselves off that list,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said. “I think, at a certain point, I think if it was important enough to be put on a lifetime registration list, they should stay there forever.”
The I-Team found that the Council received 101 applications in 2022 and approved just 20 applicants to ask the court to get off of the registry.
The I-Team requested the number of individuals actually removed from the registry from DPS, who manages the registry, and have not yet heard back.