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State officials grapple with problems in tracking sex offenders

October 04, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

With the Maryland General Assembly's next legislative session drawing nearer and a gubernatorial election on the horizon, ideas abound about how to keep better track of the state's registered sex offenders, from global positioning system anklets to lifetime supervision of the highest at risk to repeat their past.

For about the past five years, the Maryland Sex Offender Registry Unit has been responsible for processing new registration statements for the state's sex offenders, said Unit Manager Paul Kozloski.

On Sept. 23, Maryland's registry contained the names of 4,284 sex offenders.

Cases in which registered sex offenders, in Maryland and across the country, have failed to update their addresses and have gone on to commit heinous sexual crimes have prompted some local lawmakers and others to examine Maryland's way of accounting for them.

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Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has proposed strengthening penalties and increasing oversight of offenders, including global positioning system anklets.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has proposed lifetime supervision for the most violent offenders.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat, has unveiled a plan to require lifetime supervision for the most violent sexual offenders and notification to the community into which an offender moves.

GPS plan



A "back of the napkin figure" for Ehrlich's proposed global positioning system anklets and supervision costs is about $10 million a year, said state Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who supports the idea.

Shank, a member of the house Judiciary Committee, said that during the 2004 legislative session a task force was established to investigate the feasibility of outfitting sex offenders and other violent criminals with global positioning anklets, which would keep track of their whereabouts at all times. If the offender removed the anklet, it would send out an alert, and police would be called, he said.

A final report on the feasibility study will be submitted to the Maryland General Assembly in December, Shank said.

The system is used in Florida and seems to work, he said.

"We're dealing with a population that has an extremely high recidivism rate. Those that are released, the very least we should be doing is monitoring them 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Shank said.

Over the summer, Ehrlich sent police across the state to check on more than 400 sex offenders who reportedly had moved to Maryland but had not registered. Under his Sex Offenders Compliance and Enforcement (SOCEM) Initiative, of 403 sought: 69 sex offenders were found and ordered to register immediately; 130 were determined to be living outside Maryland; 104 were incarcerated in federal or state prisons; five were dead; seven remained under investigation; and for another 88, there was no information to show they had moved to Maryland, the Associated Press reported.

The initiative, launched in August, also includes providing immediate assistance to victims and families and empowering communities to protect themselves against that category of sex offenders listed as sexual predators, those considered the highest risk to the community, The Associated Press reported.

There were three sexual predators registered in Maryland this summer, Kozloski said. Two live in Baltimore and one lives "way up in Western Maryland," he said.

Lifetime supervision



Curran is to propose legislation that would require lifetime supervision for those sex offenders evaluated as posing the most risk to society, said Carolyn Quattrocki, Curran's special assistant.

"Right now, after parole or probation ends, that offender is just free in the community," she said.

"He believes there ought to be a link between when an offender is released from supervision and an assessment that he no longer has a potentially high risk to the community," Quattrocki said.

Lie detector tests, which are not admissible in court, "are an important piece of monitoring sex offenders," and would be used to help determine the risk they pose, she said.

Curran also would like community meetings in the neighborhoods to which sex offenders move. Ideally, Quattrocki said, such a meeting would include a discussion involving police, school officials, therapists for sex offenders and therapists for sex offense victims.

"When they move into communities right now, it goes up on the registry and it puts the burden on parents to see if there's someone who has moved into their neighborhood," she said.

No price tag has been attached to Curran's proposal yet, she said, but "this is important enough" to the community.

"Everything costs money," she said.

"We want to be sure, assuming we can get lifetime supervision, that we can put the resources into it to make it meaningful," Quattrocki said.

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