Md. law makes sex offenders' names available

November 08, 1997


Staff Writer

Changes to Maryland's "Megan's Law" are giving residents broader access to the list of convicted sex offenders living in their neighborhoods, according to state officials.

"This is unprecedented in the history of Maryland," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., director of public information for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Megan's Law was named for the highly publicized New Jersey case where a 7-year-old girl was raped and strangled by a convicted sex offender. In 1994 a federal law required that communities be notified of sex offenders living in their midst, and Maryland passed its first Megan's Law in 1995.


Under the changes that went into effect last month, anyone wanting a list of local offenders can send a written request to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Previously, only local law enforcement agencies could release the information, Sipes said.

"It provides a broader sense of access," he said.

The information can include names, places of employment, aliases and Social Security numbers. The description of the crime that caused the offender to be registered, as well as the date and jurisdiction of the crime, are also included.

The new law also broadens the categories of sex offenders to be registered. Previously, only those under the "child sex offender" category were included. The new categories include "offender," "sexually violent offender" and "sexually violent predator."

Sex offenders whose date of offense occurred on or after Oct. 1, 1995, must register annually with their local law enforcement agency for 10 years after release from prison.

But while supporters of Megan's Law applaud it as one of the tools in protecting children from sex offenders, critics say it goes too far. Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said those on the list have already paid their debt to society and shouldn't have to wear the "scarlet letter" of sex offender after being released from prison.

"It's punishment after the fact," she said.

Goering said she also fears the law could create an environment of vigilantism where people seek to harass or harm those on the list.

"To have this extra judicial method of punishment is really very scary," she said.

But Goering said what might be the most dangerous aspect of Megan's Law is that it can create a false sense of security for families who believe they are safe because they don't live near someone on the list.

"Parents need to be concerned about any stranger," she said.

Sipes agreed that parental involvement is an important part of protecting children from sexual predators. His agency is promoting open dialogue involving children and their families about taking precautions.

"That's really what we want to come out of this law - a public education campaign," Sipes said.

But he defended the law as a means of allowing people to report those offenders when they are involved in illegal or suspicious behavior.

"The community has always been law enforcement's best asset," Sipes said.

To receive a list of local offenders, residents can send a written request providing their name, address and reason for the request to Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Crimes Against Children and Sex Offender Registry, 6776 Reisterstown Road, Suite 209, Baltimore, Md., 21215.

Sex offenders will be grouped by ZIP codes, Sipes said. But with just 127 offenders on the entire state list, he predicted many requests will come back with no names.

"The average person, when they check, are not going to find a registered sex offender in their ZIP code," Sipes said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones said his agency gets "very few" requests for a list of offenders.

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