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EDITORIAL: Sexual offender registry necessary

editorial:-sexual-offender-registry-necessary

Georgia’s sex offender registry is not perfect.

However, it is necessary.

State laws have made it illegal for child sex offenders to live or work in locations where parents should have the expectation their children are safe, including playgrounds, churches or schools.

In 2012, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation requiring sex offenders be categorized based on the potential danger they pose to the general public. Sex offenders are separated by risk levels that distinguish between a person who has been convicted of rape and a teenager who may have had consensual sex with another underage teenager, for instance.

Delineating between types of offenses was the right thing to do.

However, balancing individual liberties of people who have been convicted of a crime, but served out their sentences, while keeping the public safe will always be a challenge.

The biggest problem with the sex offender registry is not that it provides identifying information about offenders.

Breaking the law has its consequences.

As a society we have determined that in the case of convicted sexual offenders, the potential danger to the general public, and especially children, out weighs their rights to resume a normal life after the debt to society is paid.

While we value civil liberties, keeping our children safe is an even more important value.

Restricting where a convicted offender can live and work is no longer about punishment. It is about keeping others safe.

The first problem with the registry is it places too much trust in the honor system.

Requiring an offender to self-register places too much confidence in the offender.

Yes, there are strong penalties for not registering, that oddly can be more severe than the penalties for the actual crime that was committed, but when people choose to live on the fringes of the law, or are simply bent on lawlessness, they are often not concerned about consequences.

We commend the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office for going beyond basic requirements. Still, for an offender who has not been put into the system and is flying under the radar, there is no means of verification.

The next problem with the registry is there is no fail-safe system to guarantee to a community that all sex offenders living there are actually on the registry.

The most serious loophole pertains to the homeless.

No one knows exactly how many homeless sex offenders live in Georgia or in a given community.

A sex offender has 72 hours after conviction or a change of address to notify the sheriff’s department. If they don’t register they could face prison time, simply for not registering. Subsequent failures to register could mean life in prison.

It is an irony, but restrictions against where sex offenders can live and the requirement for them to be placed on a registry have driven many of them to homelessness. 

It’s a grim Catch 22 that the laws designed to keep track of sex offenders have made it extremely difficult to find a a place to live, causing them to be homeless and making them more difficult to track. Or cause some offenders to go into hiding.

Restricting the lives of sex offenders may actually compromise their ability to find housing, employment, maintain counseling, treatment and rehabilitation.

Still, despite all the concerns we have about civil liberties and individual rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we simply have to know where these offenders are and what threat they pose to a community.

As a society we must leaven the approach with common sense – with a vigilant eye toward fairness and security.

Source: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-sexual-offender-registry-necessary/article_3d3b302b-6752-5e13-bb6c-3947e58e4755.html

Tracking Sex Offenders: State registry gives law enforcement an important tool

tracking-sex-offenders:-state-registry-gives-law-enforcement-an-important-tool

VALDOSTA — In 2016, Halloween was scary for all the wrong reasons.

Lowndes County sheriff’s deputies fanned out to check on residents on the state’s sex offender registry. The results: 344 in-person verifications, four warrants issued for non-compliant registrants (not living at their registered address) and one warrant issued for sexual exploitation of children (possession of child pornography), according to the sheriff’s office.

There were four arrests for violation of probation (participation in Halloween activities, which is forbidden to sex offenders under state law) and three warrants issued for violation of probation (were not home during Halloween activities), according to the sheriff’s office.

Georgia’s sex offender registry was created in 2006. This week, the newspapers in the SunLight Project areas of Valdosta, Thomasville, Tifton, Moultrie, Milledgeville and Dalton take a look at how law-enforcement agencies use the registry and deal with those registered.

WHAT IS THE REGISTRY?

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation maintains the state’s sex offender registry. Sheriff’s offices in each county are required to maintain a list of convicted sexual offenders and forward that information, including their addresses, to the GBI.

In Lowndes County, those duties fall to Amanda Giddens and Rodney Smith, investigators with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.

Smith’s job is mostly field work: “I go out and check addresses, make sure they’re still there, every 30-45 days.”

Giddens mainly handles office duties.

“I handle the administrative side — paperwork, entry into the GBI system, handling prosecutions. I’m also a member of the GBI Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, handling prosecutions for those,” she said.

As of Nov. 28, In Lowndes County, there were 291 registered sex offenders: 32 incarcerated, one homeless, five absconded and wanted, and 26 who do not live in Lowndes but work or attend school in the county, Giddens said.

Lt. Tim Watkins, Thomas County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator, said Thomas County seems to have more reports of sex crimes than other places.

As of Nov. 25, Thomas County had 160 registered sex offenders. Ten people on the Thomas County sex offender registry were arrested in the last year for violating terms of the registry. Follow-ups were done on several more individuals on the list, but arrests were not made.

“The challenges facing sheriff’s offices around the state is that sex offender registration is an unfunded mandate on their agencies,” Watkins said.

He said his Criminal Investigations Division spends three man-hours a day on sex offenders. They also verify sex offenders’ addresses and employment several times a year.

WHO’S ON THE LIST?

In Lowndes County, the sex offender registry is almost a men’s-only club. Of the 313 registered offenders in Lowndes on the GBI’s most recent database, only six are women.

Smith said the most numerous crimes on the registry involve some sort of sexual battery. Exclusive of crimes against children, the GBI database lists 30 cases of rape and 34 cases of various violent sex-related crimes among Lowndes County’s registered offenders.

Giddens said among new offenders, the majority involve crimes against children. The state registry lists 97 cases of child molestation and 53 statutory rape cases in Lowndes County.

The difference between child molestation and statutory rape is one of age. Statutory rape is often “boyfriend-girlfriend, one older than the other,” Smith said. Statutory rape is often a plea deal argued down from child molestation, where the age difference is greater, he said.

The only statutory rape cases listed on the registry are felony convictions. Misdemeanor statutory rape is not a registry offense. To qualify as a misdemeanor, the offender must be younger than 18, with not more than a four-year age difference, Giddens said.

Lowndes County has 14 registered offenders officially marked as “predators.”

WORKING WITH THE REGISTRY

“I get daily calls from the public,” Giddens said. “I can tell if an offender lives on a street, but, by name, can only say ‘Yes, an offender lives at that address.'”

For more information, such as “how old was the child,” people  have to file an open records request, she said.

Most arrests of people already on the registry list are for moving without notifying the sheriff’s office, Smith said.

About five to 10 people a year are removed from the list, he said. Giddens said there is a procedure for petitioning the court for removal. It includes such requirements as: Must have finished any prison time at least a decade earlier, must have been classified by review board as low risk, no intentional physical harm involved in the original crime, no kidnappings and no crossing state lines.

The Valdosta Police Department primarily uses the registry as an investigative tool, Police Chief Leslie Manahan said.

“If we were searching for someone in a violent crime, it gives us an ability to locate people in our area, especially in stranger-to-stranger cases,” she said.

The chief cited a case from several years ago when a woman was assaulted downtown. The sex offender registry was one of several avenues toward identifying the woman’s attacker, she said.

The police are not involved in maintaining the registry, Manahan said.

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office “does an excellent job at that,” she said.

“For us, it’s a tool but the sheriff’s office actually gets to know the offenders,” Valdosta Police Lt. Scottie Johns said.

Statewide, the Department of Community Supervision is actively supervising 7,536 sex offenders and 224 sexually dangerous predators — those deemed by a review board as the worst offenders. After a Supreme Court ruling, 412 sexually dangerous predators were removed from GPS monitoring. The court ruled that tracking offenders with GPS devices after they had completed their sentences was unconstitutional.

In Colquitt County, though the sheriff’s office handles current registered sex offenders, the Moultrie Police Department handles sex offender cases just like any other case.

“It’s a top priority, of course,” Moultrie Police 1st Sgt. Justin Lindsay said.

WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

A map of Lowndes County’s sex offender registrants shows the greatest concentration is within the city limits of Valdosta.

“It could be because of family support; it could be because many motels fall in the perfect area outside of forbidden zones for sex offenders,” Manahan said. “They are required to have stable residency.”

A series of Georgia legal code amendments have created a four-tiered system to determine where convicted sex offenders can and cannot live, depending on the date of their conviction:

• For those convicted before June 4, 2003, there are no restrictions.

• For those convicted between June 4, 2003, and June 30, 2006: The offender may not live within 1,000 feet of any child-care facility, school or area where minors congregate.

• For those convicted between June 30, 2006 and July 1, 2008: A 1,000-foot buffer around churches, community swimming pools and day-care centers was added. Additionally, someone on the registry may not work at a business within 1,000 feet of those locations.

• For those convicted after July 1, 2008: A 1,000-foot buffer was added around public libraries, skating rinks and gymnasiums.

Smith said if a church or school were built close to where a sex offender was already living, the offender would get to stay.

HELP FOR THE VICTIMS

Many communities have organizations to help victims of sexual crimes.

In Thomas County, the Treehouse, a victims’ advocacy agency, does a tremendous job of making victims feel comfortable and in reporting and investigating the process necessary in the crimes, Lt. Watkins said.

“I believe the partnership with the district attorney’s office, The Treehouse and law enforcement has worked well in obtaining convictions of the offenders,” he said.

In Moultrie, the Hero House Child Advocacy Center has an average of two to three interviews a week. Regina Dismuke, Hero House director, recently did two in one day on Dec. 3. The monthly average she’s seen from Colquitt County and Moultrie together was 10 to 15 in a month, but some months have seen 22 interviews. Larger cases of sexual abuse can have four or five interviews.

“To be a successful forensic interviewer, you have to have a certain set of skills because when you’re talking to children your emotions cannot show on your face. You cannot show the disbelief of maybe what they’re saying,” Dismuke said.

In addition to Terry Richards, SunLight members Riley Bunch, Bryce Ethridge and Patti Dozier contributed to this report.

SEX OFFENDERS REGISTERED IN LOWNDES COUNTY BY CRIME:

Child molestation: 97

Statutory rape: 53

Enticing a child: 8

Child pornography: 1

Rape: 30

Sodomy: 1

Sexual battery on a child under 16: 7

Source: Georgia Bureau of Investigation Sex Offender Registry

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

Source: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com/news/local_news/tracking-sex-offenders-state-registry-gives-law-enforcement-an-important-tool/article_4fe66858-cc1f-5e63-9a16-f9a022e671b7.html

Lawmakers grapple with Supreme Court ruling on sexual predator monitoring

lawmakers-grapple-with-supreme-court-ruling-on-sexual-predator-monitoring

ATLANTA — Georgia officials worry a Supreme Court ruling could allow sexual predators to reoffend under the radar. 

Department of Community Supervision officials and lawmakers expressed their concerns Wednesday about the ruling which said GPS tracking of sexual predators after they’ve completed their supervision is unconstitutional, forcing lawmakers to rethink monitoring of high-risk sexual predators.

Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, sponsored a Senate resolution last session to convene a study committee to examine how Georgia laws could satisfy the court ruling but also keep communities safe from dangerous sexual predators who are likely to reoffend.

“I want to send a message that if you’re a sexual predator Georgia is not the place you want to be. You don’t want to live here, you don’t want to come here, you certainly don’t want get caught here, we don’t want you in our state and messing with our children,” Kirk said during the committee meeting. “Children are vulnerable and we need to do everything we can to protect them at all times and all costs. There’s certain lines in life that when you cross, you don’t get a redo, there’s certain things you just don’t get a redo on and that’s one of them in my opinion.”

The Park vs. Georgia 2019 Supreme Court case ruled that a lifetime of electronic monitoring was a form of “unreasonable lifelong parentless search” and unconstitutional. Officials from the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, Bureau of Investigation and the state’s Sex Offender Registration Review Board testified that even low charges of child pornography can lead to more extreme “hands-on” offenses and those deemed “sexually dangerous predators” are at high risk of reoffending.

The Department of Community Supervision is actively supervising 7,536 sex offenders and 224 sexually dangerous predators — those deemed by the review board as the worst offenders. After the Supreme Court ruling, 412 sexually dangerous predators were removed from GPS monitoring.

Before the ruling, GPS monitoring duties of sexually dangerous predators would transfer from the department of supervision to local law enforcement — that system is no more.

“At this point when they’re discharged we remove the equipment and they are no longer required for monitoring,” James Bergman, deputy director of field operations for the department of supervision, said.

GPS monitoring costs $3.09 per day per offender — which is billed to the individual on supervision. Monitoring costs for sexually dangerous predators is billed to the department of supervision with reasoning that the offenders should cover more important costs such as rehabilitation programs.

An expected increase in GPS monitoring by the department of supervision cites rising populations of sexual predators in the state’s corrections facilities. Over the past eight fiscal years, including current fiscal year 2020, the department has seen an average increase of 183 sex offenders each year, according to Rob Thrower, who heads legislative affairs for the department.

Tracy Alvord, executive director, of the state’s Sex Offender Registration Review Board said that they have had multiple cases where a predator was caught reoffending with the help of GPS monitor — which would not be the case when monitors are removed upon completion of supervision.

“If we’ve identified them as predators, they’re very very bad,” Alvord said, “in reference to their offenses and risk of reoffending.”

Officials from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation noted concern of even lower-level offenses leading to more aggressive “hands-on” offenses.

“There’s definitely crossover from guys who are just looking at child pornography and distributing it and hands-on offenses,” Elizabeth Bigham, special agent in the child exploitation and pornography unit, told the committee.

Criminal defense lawyers who represented Joseph Park in the Supreme Court decision that is forcing change in Georgia also testified in front of lawmakers. The “quick fix” of sentencing all sexual offenders to life sentences — which would circumvent the ruling with lifelong probation and therefore lifelong GPS monitoring — lawyers said would clog the supervision system.

“One of the concerns that we have is that you take all of the offenses that are considered sexually dangerous offenses — people who make sexual predators, the 19-year-old kid who sleeps with his 15-year-old girlfriend, he’s a senior, she’s a sophomore, a second pat on the tush,” Jason Sheffield, a defense lawyer who represented Park, said, “that you take those and you say OK the resolution here is life sentences for all sexual offenses and you’re going to throw your net out there to catch sharks and you’re just going to catch dolphins.”

Kirk agreed that lifelong probation was not the answer but it might be possible to integrate GPS monitoring and probation terms into a judge’s sentencing process.

At the end of the meeting, Brendan Spaar, a convicted sexual offender currently under supervision, testified to make the case for “rehabilitation over retribution.”

Spaar was convicted of a non-contact sexual offense in Forsyth five years ago. While his sentence did not include prison time, he is on 10 years of supervision and had his name added to the state’s sex offender registry list.

Spaar had job offers rescinded and couldn’t find employment with his conviction status. Since, he said he has turned his life around, serving on Greater Gwinnett Reentry Alliance, participating in prison fellowship ministries and owning his own consulting company.

“Once my 10 years of supervision is completed, I plan to vote in the 2024 election because my voting rights will be restored once I’m off supervision. I also have a path to be removed from the registry,” Spaar told lawmakers. “This path to restoration is not going to be possible if I have a lifetime of supervision. I won’t be allowed to vote and I will be forever on the registry…We must consider rehabilitation over retribution. I sit here today as proof that rehabilitation and redemption is possible for those convicted of sexual offenses.”

Source: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com/cnhi_network/lawmakers-grapple-with-supreme-court-ruling-on-sexual-predator-monitoring/article_27353418-fb3e-11e9-a49d-df101a5fb7eb.html

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