Measures' focus to be on sex offenders

Bills to call for greater oversight of convicts, resident notification

December 05, 2005|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Sex offenders living in Maryland would be more closely supervised, and for longer periods, under legislation that Maryland's attorney general plans to introduce this week.

The legislation also calls upon state officials to hold community meetings to inform neighbors where sex offenders are living and to notify residents directly about sex offenders living nearby.

"Parents shouldn't have to get on the Internet and periodically check to see who is in their neighborhood," Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said. "Other states do far more than Maryland."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section misquoted Alan Friedman, director of legislative relations for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Speaking about the governor's forthcoming legislative proposal for improving Maryland's sex offender registry, Friedman said: "What we're working for in terms of increased effectiveness does not create an unfunded mandate for local jurisdictions."

Maryland law requires all sex offenders to register their addresses with authorities, and a small number must register for life and report annually to local police and sheriff's departments. But, Curran said, "lifetime registration serves little purpose when no one is monitoring them."

Maryland's database of sex offenders came under scrutiny in June when the address listed for a convicted rapist who is accused of killing his 13-year-old stepdaughter in Essex was found to be misspelled and unconfirmed.

At the time, the addresses for nearly one in five sex offenders - more than 800 - were listed as questionable or unknown in the state registry designed to inform communities of convicted rapists, child predators and other such criminals in their midst.

Local law enforcement agencies have a wide range of policies to confirm the accuracy of addresses for the state's 4,300 convicted sex offenders. Some agencies routinely knock on doors to check on sex offenders, while others rely on registered mail sent once a year.

Improving the way Maryland officials track sex offenders and the accuracy of the sex offender registry has already become an issue in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley outlining plans to improve the system.

At Ehrlich's request, Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, the Maryland State Police superintendent, is leading a group of law enforcement and public safety officials in making recommendations to improve the accuracy of Maryland's registry. State police also have conducted several "sweeps" to check addresses of sex offenders who have told officials in other states that they are moving to Maryland but have failed to register here.

Since August, state officials have updated the information for about 200 registered sex offenders, improving the accuracy of the state's registry by 23 percent, said Alan Friedman, Ehrlich's director of legislative relations, adding that the governor will soon unveil his proposed legislative package.

"There will be [many] bills on this in the next session," he said. "What we're working for in terms of increased effectiveness do create an unfunded mandate for local jurisdictions."

Curran has scheduled a news conference for tomorrow with Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both of whom are to sponsor the proposed legislation.

Under Curran's proposal, sex offenders would be supervised by parole agents specially trained in monitoring them and by sex offender treatment providers. After they completed their probation, the sex offenders would continue to be monitored for three years, at which time they could petition to be released from supervision.

The panel would assess the sex offender's risk of re-offending, said Carolyn Quattrocki, a special assistant to Curran. "The problem now with the way the system works is that a sex offender's release from probation isn't tied to any risk assessment," she said.

The legislation also would require the Maryland Parole Commission to set conditions for supervision of sex offenders during their parole. The conditions might require the offender to wear a global positioning satellite tracking device or submit to regular polygraph tests.

"You have to have the flexibility to address the character and circumstances of each individual offender," Quattrocki said. "Each sex offender is different."

Curran said he doesn't know how much his proposed legislation would cost. "You have to balance the cost against the desired law enforcement outcome," said Curran, who has visited other states where attorneys general have proposed similar measures.

The attorney general's office also is developing a Web site with answers to common questions about sex offenders.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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