ATLANTA --- More than a year after Georgia legislators scaled back tough sex offender restrictions, only a handful of convicts have taken advantage of new rules that allow some to petition to get off the statewide sex offender registry.
State officials have removed 107 sex offenders from the list at the order of the courts, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said. The Sex Offender Registration Review Board is reviewing another 42 applications, director Tracy Alvord said.
In all, there are more than 20,000 sex offenders registered in Georgia.
The legislation was quietly signed into law in May 2010 by Gov. Sonny Perdue, and much of it focuses on easing restrictions that banned most sex offenders from living and working near schools, parks and places where children gather. But another provision was designed to give some offenders what supporters called an "escape hatch" to get their names off the registry.
The law allows sex offenders who are disabled or living in a nursing home to petition for release from the registry after they finish their sentences. It also lets those convicted of kidnapping or false imprisonment of a minor that didn't involve any sexual contact ask for release. Another part allows those whose sentences and probation ended more than 10 years ago to ask a court for removal.
ALVORD SAID THE sex offender review board has received 50 court-ordered requests from offenders to take their names off the list, and eight people have so far been removed.
The other 99 sex offenders who were removed from the list after the law took effect didn't have to go through the review board. Those figures include applicants whose probation or parole ended at least a decade ago.
There's no definitive figure on how many sex offenders would be able to apply for removal, but lawyers say hundreds, if not thousands, could be eligible.
Some sex offenders and their advocates aren't surprised by the slow trickle of applications.
"There's not a lot of people that know or understand what's happened," said Kelly Piercy, a sex offender who was convicted of child pornography charges in 1999. "There just hasn't been publicity about it."
Piercy, who is blind, has petitioned his east Georgia court to remove his name from the registry. But he said some offenders don't want their case to be dragged up in court again. And others don't have the time or money to hire an attorney and go through the process.
"The people on the registry are often unemployed or underemployed," Piercy said. "They're barely making it. And they don't have the $3,000 to $5,000 needed to pay for the petition."
THE PROCESS CAN be surprisingly smooth, though, defense lawyers said. Atlanta attorney B.J. Bernstein represented a sex offender whose sentence and probation had ended more than a decade ago. She said prosecutors cooperated when she came to the court seeking to remove his name.
"It was painless," she said. "He just wanted to be able to go fish where he wanted to fish."
Alvord said she expects the number of applications to jump as more attorneys learn about the law.