ANNAPOLIS- Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. on Wednesday proposed stricter laws for sex offenders, saying that increased monitoring requirements will make it possible to more closely track criminals.
“We need to make sure we have a reliable registration process,” Curran said before a legislative committee. “Otherwise it’s completely useless.”
He proposed requiring that all sex-offenders be monitored for a minimum of three years after being released from jail or parole. At that point, a specialized team of law enforcement officials and trained counselors will decide whether to continue supervision for additional years.
Under current state law, people convicted of sex-crimes are required to register their residence with the state, but only the most serious offenders, like sexually violent predators, are monitored after their jail time or parole ends.
Watching the offenders more closely for longer periods of time, Curran said, will keep the state’s records more complete so that residents can be better informed of the locations of criminals in their community. Currently, about 3,000 of the 4,300 registered sex offenders in Maryland are not monitored.
“Do I know where all of them are?” he asked. “No, not really. Some are where they’re supposed to be and some aren’t.”
Curran’s proposals mirror those of other state officials concerned with the increasing number of sexually violent criminals that go unwatched.
In August, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pushed to increase penalties for the most dangerous sex offenders to a maximum of life imprisonment. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor, suggested that convicted child molesters should wear tracking bracelets for life. Both endorsed increasing the charge for failing to register a correct address with the state from a misdemeanor to a felony. “If a penalty for an offense is a life sentence and a person does not serve a full sentence, they should be supervised for life,” said Alan Friedman, a policy advisor to Ehrlich.
The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it wanted to see the details of the proposed legislation before commenting.
Doug Duncan, the Montgomery County executive and another leading Democratic candidate for governor, has accused both O’Malley and Ehrlich of politicizing the issue.
“The political gamesmanship that is being played does nothing to prevent attacks or help the victims of these horrendous crimes,” Duncan said in a statement issued last August and reported by The (Baltimore) Sun.
Laura Ahearn, executive director of the New York-based child abuse prevention advocacy group called Parent’s for Megan’s Law, said lifetime supervision is the best way to cut down on sex crimes toward children.
“It’s a very proactive approach when the state is willing to make the financial commitment to monitor an offender for life,” she said. “It’s what we’ve been lobbying for in all of the states.”
Curran also supported using satellite tracking bracelets to keep a closer eye on all sex offenders, but noted that it is just one tool that should be used as part of a multi-faceted team approach involving parole officers, treatment providers and polygraph test administrators to keep convicts on the right track.
“We’re dealing with troubled people who’ve done bad things and they’re not incarcerated, so the next best thing is to monitor them,” he said.
But Wilson Parran, chief information officer for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services warns that, while using satellite tracking devices may help law enforcement find the criminals, the real challenge will be using that information “to prevent these offenders from committing the crime again.”
As of Friday, there are four sexually violent predators – the most serious designation – in Maryland, and one of them is in violation of state registration requirements, said David Wilonski, assistant director of the department’s Criminal Justice Information System.
The state can supervise the small number of more dangerous criminals, but it will become more difficult if new laws require additional offenders to be monitored for years at a time, he said. The new measures may actually provide more ways for them “to beat the system” if there is a shortage of monitoring staff.
Curran proposed using technology more efficiently in order to lessen the load on law enforcement personnel. He suggests sending e-mails to residents and police officers to community meetings to inform people that a sex offender has moved into their area. Using other states as a model, he said he wants to set up a Web site where residents can look up the addresses of offenders and directly contact their parole officer with new information about their whereabouts or behavior.
“Police don’t have to be the only resource – we can all be a resource,” he said.
Parran is confident people will take advantage of such a Web site. Every week, about 200,000 people visit the state’s current site that lists all of the state’s sex offenders, and about 11,000 people visit a site that shows the picture of all offenders who are in violation of state law.
Curran has already arranged for his proposals to be introduced to both houses of the General Assembly in January. During the last legislative session, three bills passed that strengthened registration requirements for many levels of sex offenders. “We now need to make sure that they are not only registered by monitored by trained parole agents,” he said.