Sex crime notices in conflict

One set of laws orders state government and nursing homes to keep names and other personal or identifying information about nursing home residents confidential.

One set of laws orders state government and nursing homes to keep names and other personal or identifying information about nursing home residents confidential.

But other laws require law enforcement to notify communities there are sex offenders living in their midst, complete with names and addresses. Also, the state maintains a publicly available list of every one of the 800-plus registered sex offenders in the state, showing their addresses and criminal record. (Only the 200 most dangerous are listed at .)

So which laws take precedence if a registered sex offender moves into a North Dakota nursing home? Aren't his fellow residents now the "community" that should be notified?

Both the nursing home industry and the attorney general's office said it is unlikely for known sex offenders to end up in nursing homes, although it has happened in recent years.

Shelly Peterson, president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, said a nursing home does not have to accept residents whose behaviors they aren't prepared to handle or who pose a threat to other residents.


Assistant Attorney General Jon Byers said mandatory public meetings that notify everyone of the presence of a sex offender are only required for those at high risk for re-offending. Theoretically, if a high-risk sex offender were accepted by a nursing home, a public notification meeting would be held despite the confidentiality laws the care center must follow.

But in other situations, it may not be required, he said. If a sex offender has a low or moderate risk level and his preferred victims have always been children, notification of the other nursing home residents may not be required.

Byers said confidentiality laws "don't necessarily pertain to someone's criminal conviction," he said, and would not stop law enforcement from notifying the public.

Despite all the emphasis on sex offender registration in the past several years, it's still possible for nursing homes to unknowingly take in a sex offender because not all sex offenders who need long-term care are necessarily registered. You can't just cross-check the state list and call it a day when his name doesn't appear.

There are a few reasons for this. Some sex offenders have never been convicted, so they are not registered. For instance, there's no indication the infamous groper we wrote about last week in the Dunseith nursing home had ever been prosecuted while younger. Yet, the Health Department says his perversion was well known in the community before he moved into the home. Another man turned away by the Langdon nursing home has a documented record of abusing as many as 50 children over 40 years. But he was not convicted until 2001 - when he was 77 years old. His longtime abuse did not come to light until then and, were it not for the recent conviction, he would not be on the registry.

Also, some sex offenders - even some classified as high-risk - are not required to be registered for life and their names will eventually fall off the list. That's because someone with a single conviction only needs to be registered for 10 years.

And, finally, although all prospective residents' known behaviors are supposed to be disclosed to the nursing home administration before people move in, there's no guarantee people are going to be completely candid. Relatives may have kept his activities a close family secret. How likely is it they would suddenly reveal it now that he needs long-term care?

Cole is The Forum's Capitol correspondent in Bismarck. She can be reached at

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