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Tennessee Starts Meth Crime Registry


Anybody with a decent web connection can now go online and find out who's been selling methamphetamines in Tennessee. I'm looking at a list on my screen right now. The state has created an online registry of people convicted of making or selling the drug. NPR's Audie Cornish explains why.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

Meth addicts are likely to be found cooking up their drug of choice just about anywhere, in their homes, trailers, cars, and motel rooms. But law enforcement officials say their toxic combination of phosphorous, iodine, and other chemicals, are a flammable mix, causing dozens of explosions and burn victims each year. That's why the state created an online registry of meth convicts, so people will know who could be a potential danger to the neighborhood.

Honorable SETH NORMAN (Criminal Court Judge, Tennessee): You have a sexual registry for sexual predators, what's wrong with that? The same thing for meth; they manufacture meth, they blow people up. They ruin lives.

CORNISH: Seth Norman is a criminal court judge, and heads up the state's drug court rehabilitation program, where dozens of drug offenders are referred each year for treatment. The Judge visits the inpatient facility here once a week, to touch base with those in rehab.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

CORNISH: Tonight, three people are graduating from the program. All are cocaine addicts. You won't find their names on any registry. Penny Eddington, who's convicted of making meth, is among those cheering on the graduates. She says there's no way to know who will relapse, and she feels the registry punishes meth offenders for those who don't, as well as those who do.

Ms. PENNY EDDINGTON (Convicted methamphetamine offender): People like me, who are here trying to work on themselves and better themselves, we're not like sex offenders, you know? We're not going to go out and rape somebody. I don't think it's right that they, it's invasion of our privacy is the way I feel.

CORNISH: Eddington says she was hoping to go back home to a job, her husband, and children. But the registry, she fears, is going to make her family an easy target for ridicule and fear.

Ms. EDDINGTON: The only way that we're going to be able to get over this is to be able to put it behind us, and we can't do that if it's on the internet.

CORNISH: Mark Gwyn says he's not prepared to risk a potential relapse by Eddington or any other offender. Gwyn heads the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He says the state is balancing the right of convicts to serve out their terms and move on against the right of citizens to know if there is danger lurking next door.

Mr. MARK GWYN (Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigations): Well, I don't think we're saying, once you're a meth manufacturer you'll always be, obviously, but I think I have more of an obligation to you and your family, that if someone that has manufactured meth in the past moves beside you, and that you could be harmed by this, I think that's where my obligation lies as a law enforcement officer in this state.

CORNISH: But Tennessee ACLU Director Hedy Weinberg says the registry is doing nothing more than creating a third class of citizenship, and a false sense of security.

Ms. HEDY WEINBERG (Director, Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union): I really don't think with the meth offender registry, having the limited income family look on the registry, see that someone served their time and has now returned to the community, and live next door, is going to make a difference to the family. They're not going to be able to pick up and move. And the person who has served his time is only finding that he has a big red M on his forehead, and people pointing fingers at him. So, in fact, he's not being given that second chance.

CORNISH: So far, there are 189 people on the registry. New names are added each time someone is convicted of making or selling the drug.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.