Lifetime supervision sought for predators

Curran pushes for tougher law governing violent sex offenders

'The public needs to feel safe'

July 16, 2005|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

In the aftermath of highly publicized cases of child murders by registered sex offenders, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday that he will push for legislation requiring lifetime supervision of violent sexual predators and a more active approach for notifying communities that an offender is about to be released into their midst.

In 2001, Curran urged legislators to pass a law to keep criminals with a history of sex crimes locked up after they complete their prison terms. That effort failed, but recent events have convinced him the time has come to get tougher on sexual predators, who often go on to commit crimes again.

Fourteen other states -- most recently Illinois -- have passed laws requiring lifetime supervision of child molesters and rapists, Curran said.

"We've got to do more to protect our children and our communities," he said. "These offenders pose a special challenge. There's every indication that they're likely to re-offend."

The Maryland Sex Offender Registry contains the names of 4,343 people convicted of sex crimes in the state. About 1,300 are being monitored by authorities.

Curran's proposal would ensure that all of those on the list are being watched by officers trained to deal with them. One thing under consideration is using global positioning systems to keep track of the offenders.

Curran wants the General Assembly to take up the issue in its session that will begin in January.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he supports Curran's proposal -- the details of which have yet to be fully fleshed out -- and might be willing to sponsor his legislation.

"The public needs to feel safe from predators," Miller said.

Miller said he is not sure whether he would support lifetime supervision but agrees that the current system -- in which offenders are closely monitored for a few years, sometimes as many as 10 -- isn't good enough.

"Certainly, it needs to be a much greater period of supervision," he said.

Two Florida girls were killed in separate incidents this year, and convicted sex offenders have been charged in those cases. One suspect had been released from jail a month before the killing on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender at his new address.

This week, Idaho police captured a registered sex offender who was arrested in the kidnapping of an 8-year-old girl and her 9-year-old brother. The boy's remains were found in a campground. The girl was reunited with her father.

"We should do everything we can to make sure something like this never happens in Maryland," Curran said.

Legislation of the type Curran seeks seems to come in waves, said Charles Olney, research associate with the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice that provides jurisdictions with technical assistance and training to supervise offenders.

Fourteen states have laws allowing lifetime supervision, and the laws are used to varying degrees, he said.

"This is something that has raised its head again" with the recent cases in the news, he said.

Any legislation pushed by Curran would include a provision permitting the offender to petition the Maryland Parole Commission to be freed from lifetime supervision, said Carolyn Quattrocki, special assistant to Curran.

She said the category of those for whom it is "never really safe" to be released would probably be small but that it is better to have the flexibility to continue to monitor those who need more supervision.

Violent offenders and those who attack children would be most likely to be covered by any new law, she said.

Part of Curran's proposal is specialized training for parole officers who work with sex offenders and more treatment during incarceration. He also wants to make sure it is no longer up to parents surfing the Internet to find out whether child molesters are moving in next door. Maryland law has no provision for warning neighbors, Quattrocki said.

Under Curran's plan, she said, community meetings would be held before a release at which residents would learn about the possible threat and about how to identify sex offenders in general. Most offenders are relatives or friends of the family, she said.

Curran said he is unsure how much the effort would cost.

"This is a cost I'm comfortable the public would be willing to pay," he said.

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